Pasco council looks at draft to merge emergency dispatch systems

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldDecember 11, 2012 

The Pasco City Council is moving closer to merging its emergency dispatch communications with the one shared by Benton County, Kennewick and Richland.

The council Monday saw a draft of an agreement that would set Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and Benton and Franklin counties on the path toward a regional communications center.

City Manager Gary Crutchfield told the council the two counties have a $100,000 federal grant they can use to form a regionalization plan for a bi-county system known as a Public Safety Answering Point.

Forming that plan also should move Pasco along in its goal to convert its police department radios from the very high frequency, or VHF, system to the 800 megahertz system used by Kennewick and Richland police.

Pasco fire would continue to use the VHF system.

The council heard a presentation earlier this year that Pasco police have problems communicating with officers using VHF radios. They also share a single frequency with all other Franklin County agencies.

"It's very frustrating and, frankly, unsafe for our officers," Crutchfield said Monday.

The cities, counties and fire districts in Benton and Franklin counties have been discussing combining Franklin County's dispatch center and SECOMM, or Southeast Communications Center.

A consultant's study suggested joining the two dispatch centers and BIPIN, or the Bicounty Police Information Network, could save thousands of dollars and improve services.

With regionalization, 911 calls would be answered by a single public safety answering point. Operators would enter the information from the callers during the conversation.

As soon as the operator inputs the event on the shared computer system, dispatchers in both counties would be able to see it and send out the appropriate units, as well as pass on any updates.

That would eliminate the lost time while dispatchers process calls and if the call is sent to the wrong dispatch center.

About 3 percent to 5 percent of the 100,000 emergency calls received by both dispatch centers each year go to the wrong dispatch center -- sometimes depending on which cell phone tower someone's signal comes from.

Crutchfield told the council Monday that Police Chief Bob Metzger has his cellphone calls go to different counties depending on whether he calls from his front or back yard.

The agreement has to be considered by all five governments. Crutchfield said he hoped to bring it back to the council in early January for approval.

If all five agencies agree, regionalization would be completed by the end of 2013.

Also Monday, the council heard a proposal to start charging 10 cents per page to scan paper documents into computer files format for electronic responses to public records requests.

State law allows governments to charge the cost of copying, and Deputy City Manage Stan Strebel said it costs the city just about as much to scan a document as it does to make a photo copy.

The city would not charge to send electronic copies of documents that already exist electronically.

The council likely will vote on the proposal next Monday.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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