Trouble with Pierce County’s 911 system hasn’t put the public or law enforcement in specific danger, according to a recent whistleblower investigation.
A Puyallup emergency dispatcher alleged in a December whistleblower complaint that the county’s computer-aided dispatch system had been routinely freezing.
In response, South Sound 911, the agency that dispatches the county’s 41 police and fire departments, hired attorney Brenda Bannon to investigate.
Her report, dated April 19, found the problems with the dispatch system “have episodic theoretical potential to create officer or public safety issues.”
But she didn’t find that South Sound 911 had taken any improper action that would lead to a specific danger to public health or safety.
Bannon pointed out that, should the system freeze, dispatchers can use pens, paper and radios. Plus, she wrote, South Sound 911 has worked to improve the system and fixed an internet connection problem that caused the freezes at the Puyallup dispatch center.
The whistleblower’s complaint also included concerns about a specific supervisor, which the investigator said South Sound 911 handled properly.
The whistleblower, dispatcher Tina Lewis, still disagrees on all counts.
“Although it is true that we could theoretically perform our jobs with green crayons written on used paper grocery bags, a properly working CAD system surely makes our work much safer and more efficient,” Lewis said in a statement Monday.
“As an experienced 911 dispatcher, these unpredictable CAD software issues do compromise the safety of our law enforcement officers and the public.”
She argues problems with the system, such as workstations crashing, persist.
“With all of the ongoing software fixes, changes, failures, and claimed improvements, it is like we are still beta-testing this software for the company,” Lewis’ statement said.
“It seems we are still their ‘guinea pigs,’ working with an unfinished product that’s just not well suited for 911 emergency use.”
Voters created South Sound 911 in 2011 to get the 41 police and fire departments on one dispatch system. South Sound chose a system from the Intergraph division of Alabama-based Hexagon Geospatial.
The county’s law enforcement agencies switched over first, in October 2015. Tacoma Fire made the transition last, on April 11.
Some Pierce County emergency personnel, including Lewis, have said the system is hard to use and doesn’t seem built for the work dispatchers, police, and firefighters do.
Administrators have said they’re happy with the system and have been using feedback to make it more user-friendly.
Hexagon Geospatial has an interest in helping with that, South Sound 911 executive director Andrew Neiditz said.
“The number of agencies consolidated (into South Sound 911) is so significant, they don’t see it in other parts of the country,” he said. “I think they would like our model to be shown elsewhere.”
That consolidation means the roughly 30 dispatchers who work out of the Puyallup center will move later this month to the Tacoma center, where the county’s other law enforcement dispatchers work.
In mid-June, about 30 fire dispatchers will move to Puyallup from an out-dated facility with “clumsy systems,” Neiditz said.
By 2019, he hopes to get everyone into a new facility on the site of the old Puget Sound Hospital at 3580 Pacific Ave. in Tacoma.