Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

Proposition 1: A seamless, modern 911 system

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Oct. 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm with 8 Comments »
October 14, 2011 6:02 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Suggestion: Read the article below, written by the Pierce County sheriff and a leader of the county’s fire commissioners.

Done? Now you know why The News Tribune’s editorial board is endorsing Proposition 1, which would enact a tenth-of-one-percent sales tax to create a seamless, countywide, all-digital 911 dispatch system. This would add a penny to a $10 purchase.

Proposition 1 would fix two big, interrelated problems that have long plagued the county’s police officers and firefighters – and the citizens who depend on them.

Problem One is the county’s fragmented, patchwork system of dispatch agencies. Many counties have one or two dispatch centers that handle all emergency calls: This creates greater efficiencies and economies, with modern GPS and digital mapping technologies letting dispatchers rapidly direct first responders to emergencies.

But turf wars among agencies and local jurisdictions have saddled Pierce County with an antiquated multiplicity of agencies and centers. Four separate “primary call centers” handle 911 calls, which in turn relay all fire and emergency medical calls to two additional centers run by fire departments.

Problem One led to Problem Two. Over the years, the fragmented agencies have bought different kinds of radio equipment – mostly analog systems that are now obsolete – that don’t always talk to each other and sometimes (in dead spots) don’t talk at all. Below, Paul Pastor and Larry Nelson spell out some of the tragic and near-tragic consequences.

No one designing a new system from scratch would come up with anything like what Pierce County has now.

What firefighters and police would come up with is a modern, unified, thoroughly integrated dispatch system – like the one Proposition 1 would create.

That’s why all the fire departments and districts in the county want to see this passed. Nearly all law enforcement agencies have endorsed it as well – the only major exception being the Puyallup Police Department.

Unfortunately, the Puyallup City Council opposes a countywide system; it is embracing the old parochialism that that perpetuated the radio patchwork in the first place. The police department must do the council’s bidding, but note that Central Pierce Fire & Rescue – which handles Puyallup’s fire calls – has endorsed Proposition 1.

What does the council know about emergency services that Puyallup’s firefighters don’t?

Buying new radio systems is not optional. Motorola and other manufacturers will be ditching the old technology in a few years; jurisdictions that depend on analog, such as Tacoma and Puyallup, will have to go digital regardless.

With those purchases looming anyway, this is also the time to end the fragmentation.

Proposition 1 would not only integrate agencies and technology, it would also consolidate emergency dispatch in two buildings, one for fire calls, the other for police.

The redundancy makes sense in a county vulnerable to devastating lahars and earthquakes; if one center goes down, its calls can be routed automatically to the other.

This is a bad time for a tax increase, however small. But anytime is a bad time for obsolete radios and a fractured dispatch system, the problems Proposition 1 would finally fix.

Leave a comment Comments → 8
  1. frommike says:

    What I want to know is will the tax disappear at a predetermined date, or dollars raised amount? I will vote for funds to meet a purpose, I will not vote in a new unending tax.

  2. surewire says:

    If the proposal would add efficiencies and save money, why the need for a $300,000,000.00 tax increase? Did George Orwell write this article? I smell pork, backroom deals and special favors.

  3. derekyoung says:

    One thing left out of the article is the federal mandate to update our systems which will have to come from existing police and fire budgets if the tax does not pass. It’s not the only reason to pass this, but it certainly adds to the urgency.

    @frommike – there is a sunset on the tax, it’s 25 years or whenever the bonds are paid off. Municipal bonds tend to be 20 years but obviously they have not been sold yet.

    @surewire – Unlike Congress, there is no method for appropriating these dollars other than their intended purpose. In fact, state law requires they be spent only on emergency communications. Like all public agencies, South Sound 911 will face annual audits from the State Auditor’s office.

  4. philwatson says:

    Concerning their zealous campaign activity on this ballot measure the public officials pushing this should do themselves a favor by adhering to RCW 42.17.130.

  5. everyone says:

    My family, neighbors and I will be voting Hell No on South Sound 911.

  6. rainiersnow says:

    The backers of prop 1, are now going to try scare tactics and pull on your heart. You will hear a tape with a gun shot and hear Sgt Hausner tell how he was shot and his partner was killed. We all agree that this is a tragic event but the did not kill Deputy Mundell. Decisions made that night killed him.
    The four Lakewood officers had the upgraded system and they still lost their life to the scumbag.
    Remember the facts when it comes to Prop 1.

    The County needs 40 million dollars to meet federal mandates. They have known this for years but did not make it a priority. They are now asking to build a kingdom on the graves of the officers killed because they know we are a compassionate group of citizens in Pierce County. Pierce County is asking for hundreds of million more than they need and they will attempt to scare you into giving them the money.
    The County wants to build two new comm centers and a new EOC. Your calls are still going to be transfered from Police to the Fire Department. These two commmunication centers do not have the redundancy that is needed. Fire fighters who are answering the medical calls are not trained or qualified to deal with police calls. This is a turf issue between Pierce County and those at the Fire Department that dispatch. If they try to deny this fact, ask them why not have two seperate centers one on the East side and one on the West side that handle both police and fire. This is not a new concept. This is done in Thurston County and at Valley Comm in Kent. It IS cost effective.
    They say it is only a penny on $10.00. In this hard economic time do you not want that penny spend wisely and not used to continue to build a Kingdom with unnecessary expenses.
    For whatever reason the TNT is supporting this. Look into the facts. Don’t be afraid to stand up and say no. Remember this is YOUR money. We work hard for our money. Don’t give it up without asking for accountability, fiscal responsibility and justification. Show us something truely seamless. One call does it call, not “Please hold while I transfer you to the fire department”. Next time you call 911 in the county, count how many times it rings. Then say to yourself, if I had a fire/medical emergency how many more rings do I need to wait for before I actually receive help.

  7. urbancowboy says:

    One of the poorest editorial endorsements I have seen by the TNT in a long, long time. How about mentioning how Tacoma gets a new EOC out of this. How about mentioning that fire LT will be dispatchers under this thus much more expensive than non commissioned staff. How about mentioning cops can talk on LERN now. How about talking about LESA call times in answering 911. TNT you dropped the ball on this one. Poor job and lacks journalistic integrity. Pierce County voters study this closely as you will write one big fat check to the county government if this passes with no accountability. And shame on anyone who tries to draw the death of cops recently with the radio system. The radio system had nothing to do with it, evil people did. Period.

  8. Really911 says:

    Proposition 1 would not only integrate agencies and technology, it would also consolidate emergency dispatch in two buildings, one for fire calls, the other for police.

    This statement alone is enough reason to VOTE NO 1. There is nothing in this statement that indicates any changes to the way 911 works for the public right now. So why should the public give Pierce County hundreds of millions of dollars for the necessary upgrade that only requires 30-40 million…rediculous !!

We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

JavaScript is required to post comments.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0