Our Voice: Efficient dispatch system worthy of consideration

March 5, 2013 

A regional emergency dispatch system is one of a long list of cooperative ideas among our many local governments that has been discussed for a long time.

We thought a 2011 agreement to study consolidation of emergency dispatch operations would have delivered the answers by now as to whether the idea is what's best for our region.

At a basic level, the idea seems to make a lot of sense.

Emergency responders already have agreements to back each other up when one department's resources are taxed. Having all the necessary groups receiving the appropriate information in the same manner seems wise.

A study a few years back by the consulting firm eGov showed the move could save money and improve services.

When it comes to the safety of citizens, we're not as concerned about pinching pennies as we are about getting help where it's needed -- in the most efficient way possible.

Minutes and seconds count in emergency situations, especially when lives and livelihoods are at stake.

But for some reason, the follow-up study approved by the two counties to further explore consolidated services never happened and the idea is no farther ahead than it was a couple of years back.

Instead, a draft agreement between Benton and Franklin counties and the cities of Kennewick, Richland and Pasco requesting a consultant to help design and implement a plan forward for a regional emergency communications system was issued.

Most of the jurisdictions reviewing the draft agreement see it as a call for a consultant to develop an action plan, with a decision on whether it's a good idea to come once more details have been obtained.

But Benton County officials see it as a commitment to move ahead with a consolidated system. They say there are too many unanswered questions and want to revive the study that was agreed on in 2011.

While their reticence has some scratching their heads, it's wise to remember that two of the Benton County commissioners had careers in law enforcement and have a more intimate working knowledge of emergency dispatch than most elected officials.

And they're not saying it's a bad idea, they are just asking for some questions to be answered.

Benton County officials agreed to send a letter to the other parties to request an independent study of the consolidation concept, which would review the eGov study and other issues.

One question is how Benton County, Richland and Kennewick would be compensated for the millions of dollars spent on their upgraded radio system.

The commissioners also plan a letter in support of allowing Pasco police to use the county's upgraded radio network through a lease agreement until a long-term solution can be found.

The health and welfare of our region is too important to let this idea languish further. A consolidated dispatch center holds promise but a decision can't be made until all the facts are gathered.

A bi-county meeting has been proposed to help resolve questions and move a plan forward.

Let's hope this time the necessary follow-through takes place to provide the answers.

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