Study: Benton, Franklin counties should merge dispatch centers

It's time for the next step in a continuing discussion about merging emergency dispatch centers to create a single, more efficient system covering Benton and Franklin counties.

Communication consultants have told the counties that consolidating dispatching efforts would improve service and could save thousands of dollars.

Now the consultants from e-Gov Consulting of Fairview, Texas, will give their recommendations on what should be done next, how to do it and what it will cost.

Ernest Pages and Stephen Gousie will make their presentation at 2 p.m. today at TRAC in Pasco in Room 4.

Richland City Manager Cindy Johnson said this is the opportune time to take a look at the next steps and find efficiencies -- in costs and operations -- by merging the dispatch systems.

"Right now, everyone's got to say, 'Does this work?' " she said. "Yes, there's going to be challenges, but I haven't heard anyone say we shouldn't do it. It's the right thing to do ... but how do we do it."

Commissioners in Benton and Franklin counties met with the consultants in July to hear about the initial findings on how the systems operate and what the potential benefits of coordinated emergency services.

E-Gov was hired with a grant to conduct the study.

On Tuesday, members of the Benton County Emergency Services Board were briefed on the initial findings.

Right now, Franklin County dispatch, SECOMM also known as Southeast Communications Center and BIPIN, which is the Bicounty Police Information Network, provide communications and records management for public safety services in the two counties and the cities.

The various public entities that participate in the network pay about $6.6 million a year to keep the system going.

The analysis found the three systems use the same software provider, but there is no interoperability with the systems.

"Everyone's doing their own thing," Pages said. "All of it is one vendor but it's like it's three different vendors. That's not a good recipe for maximum efficiency."

In the event of an emergency at the dispatch centers, Franklin County has backup through Franklin County Emergency Management, but the consoles are inadequate and need upgrading, Pages said. Benton County Emergency Services has no backup.

Running two dispatch centers also creates the issue of having misdirected calls -- a call about an emergency in Kennewick could initially get routed to Franklin County dispatch, then have to be transferred to Benton County.

"A region that in essence operates as one should not have misdirected calls," Pages said.

A combined dispatch center also leads to opportunities for easier upgrades to a next-generation 911 system, which would be capable of accepting 911 text or video messages, he said.

West Richland Mayor Donna Noski said the efficiencies that could be found in creating one coordinated system makes it important to look into further.

"I'm excited that the process is taking place," she said, but acknowledged the "governance is going to be the biggest challenge."

Johnson said she hopes the information presented today will give officials from the cities and counties a chance to understand the next step, go back and share it with their staff and see what other questions still need to be answered.

She said she hopes everyone can get on the same page, understand it's what is needed to improve the region and commit to finding a way to make it happen.