Now, more than ever before, South Sound 911 is closer to becoming a fully-integrated system.
That confirmation came Jan. 3 when 911 and dispatch employees from the city of Puyallup’s City Comm, under a recently approved agreement, became officially part of the South Sound 911 payroll.
“Puyallup joined South Sound 911 through an interlocal agreement well over a year ago, so this agreement (finalized on Jan. 3) was not about being a member,” said Andrew Neiditz, executive director of South Sound 911. “This was about employees being part of the South Sound 911 organization.”
Puyallup’s City Comm, located on South Hill, is now commonly referred to by South Sound 911 as the Eastside Communications Center. Neiditz explained South Sound 911 is footing the bill for the use of the Eastside facility, removing the financial responsibility from the city of Puyallup.
Located also in the Eastside Communications Center are 911 and dispatch employees from Fife, who became employees of South Sound 911 a year ago. Fife employees are dispatching for Fife, Milton, Orting and Buckley.
Puyallup employees will continue to dispatch for Puyallup, Sumner and Bonney Lake.
“It’s a major step forward to have seven communities dispatched in one communications center,” Neiditz said.
The second major communications center is the 35th Street center in Tacoma that dispatches for 12 police departments and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
With the joining of Puyallup’s employees, South Sound 911 now dispatches for 19 police departments across Pierce County, which was the goal all along when voters approved a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to support public safety and form South Sound 911.
Two final pieces of the South Sound 911 puzzle remain. These comprise bringing in 22 fire departments currently dispatched by two separate communications centers and also establishing a unified regional public safety communications center campus located somewhere in central Pierce County.
Neiditz said at press time that South Sound 911 had anticipated to find property for the unified center within the next 30 days.
“The whole process of due diligence and site planning will take until the second half of 2018,” Neiditz explained.
In other words, Puyallup and Fife employees won’t physically move out of the Eastside Communications Center until 2018 at the earliest.
“The purpose is not to merge organizations, but to create efficiencies,” Neiditz said. “The purpose is to achieve interoperability so that police departments and fire departments can communicate with each other across the county.”
To date, South Sound 911 has invested $60 million in radio system improvements, which include upgrades to the previously existing 800 MHz system. Investments also include purchases of 4,522 portable and mobile radios for first responders and a $5.5 million purchase of a new computer-aided dispatch system.
In the early iteration of South Sound 911, it was widely known that the city of Puyallup was reluctant to join the organization. But over time that slowly changed.
“Over the last couple of years we have had several agreements with Puyallup,” Neiditz said. “They are now a full-fledged member and a signatory on the interlocal agreement. We’re excited to have them on board.”
Up until the end of December, former Puyallup Mayor John Knutsen was a member of the South Sound 911 policy board. Puyallup Council member Julie Door was appointed to replace Knutsen on the policy board at the first Puyallup City Council meeting of 2016. Puyallup Police Department Chief Bryan Jeter is a member of the South Sound 911 operations board.
Looking back now, Mayor John Hopkins said the Puyallup council’s slow, methodical approach to joining in with South Sound 911 was the right thing to do at the time.
“There was a lot of skepticism and reluctance to join in,” Hopkins said. “We had a good dispatch system already and we thought, ‘Why would we want to join something unknown?’ It would have been inappropriate to join in.”
But as the council slowly learned about the process of joining in, Hopkins said it became more and more comfortable with the system.
“By joining in, this is much better,” Hopkins said. “Financially, it’s much better to join. System-wise, it’s much better to join. Safety-wise, it’s better to join. It was obvious.”