After being discussed and debated for a decade, a consolidated emergency dispatch center is finally expected to come online this summer.
Benton County Emergency Services’ Southeast Communications Center, known as SECOMM, should be handling all the region’s calls by July.
The need to consolidate 911 services in the two counties was sparked by the prolific use of mobile phones, which can end up sending calls to the wrong dispatch center, slowing response times and fouling location information.
Tri-City officials estimate 5,000 calls are misrouted each year, putting your life and property in possible jeopardy.
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Franklin County’s dispatch system also struggled with antiquated equipment, not wanting to shoulder the cost of expensive upgrades if a merger was imminent.
It was a wise financial decision but keeping the outdated system rolling in the interim had its own set of problems. The sheriff went so far as to liken the fragility of the system to sitting “on thin ice.”
Time was of the essence for the parties to put an agreement in place for merged operations. But consolidation on any front is a long-running challenge in the region, especially between the two counties. Egos and allegations often get in the way of productive talks, and the Columbia River is less of a divide than the diatribe that can flow back and forth between the two governments.
At certain times, it looked like a consolidated dispatch center was going to go the way of many other good ideas that would benefit the community as a whole but failed to thrive because the leaders involved couldn’t agree.
Debates about how much jurisdictions should pay to join in the consolidated system and how the partnership should be structured were some of the bumps along the way. Eventually, it was agreed that Franklin County and Pasco would each pay $1 million and foot much of the transition costs.
And even when the plan was finally approved, staffing shortages threatened to delay its debut.
But all those issues appear to be in the rear view now, with the first transitional dispatcher joining the SECOMM team last week and a positive outlook for bringing the rest of the key staff on board in time to merge operations by July.
With the safety of our community at stake, it is a relief to be nearing the finish line of the emergency dispatch consolidation. Maybe the eventual success of a multi-jurisdictional project will be the seed to help other cooperative efforts reach fruition.
When someone calls 911, the response can be the difference between life and death. Our community deserves the most efficient and effective system.
It took far too long to get to this point — a decade of delays and debates. But we hope the lessons learned along the way can help shape future discussions and projects with community-wide benefits.