For years we have advocated for a cooperative, regional approach to emergency 911 communications in the Tri-Cities.
After all, fast-spreading wildfires don’t stop at jurisdictional boundary lines and bridges don’t keep criminals on only one side of the river.
The prevalence of mobile phones has added to the urgency for Benton and Franklin counties to combine forces and create a single 911 dispatch operation center in the Mid-Columbia.
Unlike landlines, cellphone calls are routed in such a way that there is no guarantee the connection will go to the appropriate dispatch center. Often, the calls end up going to the wrong one and must be re-routed.
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That costs precious time when seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
Now, finally, the effort to create just one 911 operations center for the region is closer to reality than ever before.
Earlier this month Benton County commissioners, in a 2-1 vote, agreed to a plan that allows Franklin County to unite as a partner rather than a fee-paying subscriber.
This has been a sticking point for a long time, and we are glad the decision went the way it did. If Benton County had balked this late in the negotiations, it likely would have been a deal breaker — and a real shame.
Since that crucial vote, all participating agencies have approved the agreement. That includes both counties, Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and West Richland and several fire districts.
Although there are still skeptics concerned about the details of the joint operation, the effect this new partnership will have on public safety is significant.
It has been estimated that as many as 5,000 calls are routed to the wrong dispatch center each year.
Public safety matters more than concerns over how to share resources.
After all the negotiations, we thought an agreement was on the horizon. Then last month it looked like the Benton County Commission might not go along with the arrangement — causing distress for all those who thought the deal was imminent.
The apprehension by two Benton County commissioners appeared to be over whether Franklin County could pay its fair share of the cost to run the center in the future.Commissioner Jim Beaver was the “no” vote, and Commissioner Shon Small was reluctant, but agreed to the proposal in the end.
Their concern is nothing new.
Franklin County’s weaker financial position has long been a point of contention between the two counties, which jointly operate other services including a Superior Court district and human services.
But last year when there was talk of dissolving the joint Benton-Franklin Superior Court, the community and the entire judiciary objected and the idea faded.
This latest example of Benton County not believing Franklin County can pay its fair share, however, shows an undercurrent of distrust still runs between the two county commissions.
For the sake of people’s safety, we hope both sides can make the new joint emergency dispatch center work.
But already, a challenge has presented itself.
Both counties have a shortage of dispatchers. Officials are working on ways to attract more candidates, and perhaps that task will be easier now that the uncertainty over the future of the joint dispatch center has been lifted.
We understand Benton County officials want to look out for their own constituents, but the more services that can be provided cooperatively Tri-City-wide, the better.
Joining forces for a single 911 operation was a no-brainer.