Kyle Wagner, a PenCom Communications officer, receives and dispatches calls from the Port Angeles office. (Erin Hawkins/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Kyle Wagner, a PenCom Communications officer, receives and dispatches calls from the Port Angeles office. (Erin Hawkins/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Emergency dispatch center merger on the table

PORT ANGELES — Two Port Angeles officials will meet with the JeffCom 9-1-1 board next week to discuss a possible merger with Peninsula Communications.

City Mayor Sissi Bruch and Chief of Police Brian Smith will field questions and concerns about a regional 9-1-1 dispatch center for the North Olympic Peninsula.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Port Ludlow Fire Station, 7650 Oak Bay Road.

“We are continuing to move forward on this project,” Smith told the Port Angeles City Council last week.

JeffCom 9-1-1 Communications provides dispatching services for five Jefferson County fire departments, the Port Townsend Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

JeffCom 9-1-1 Director Karl Hatton also manages Peninsula Communications, a division of the Port Angeles Police Department.

PenCom serves 17 police, fire and emergency service agencies in Clallam County.

Hatton said in a Tuesday interview he was “cautiously optimistic” that the long-planned regionalization would take shape.

“We have a commitment from the [Port Angeles] City Council to at least start going down that path,” Hatton said. “That’s a good start.”

Hatton and Smith briefed the council June 5 on the multi-year effort to merge the two dispatch centers into one.

The City Council then voted unanimously to direct Smith to negotiate with JeffCom 9-1-1 for a regional dispatch center and report back to the council.

“We’ve had the representatives of the boards of JeffCom 9-1-1 and PenCom meet and go through areas of interest for JeffCom and what they wanted to know and what they think they might want to do in terms of regionalization,” Smith told the council.

Key decisions have yet to be made, including the governance and location of a centralized emergency communications hub.

“There will always be, I would say, spirited discussions about where a facility could be built,” Hatton said in a telephone interview.

Hatton said he hoped the location would be selected based on economics and logistics rather than politics. PenCom and JeffCom 9-1-1 have each outgrown their current space, Hatton has said.

“I think a big sticking point is going to be the location,” Hatton said during a break from a conference in Eastern Washington. “I think that’s surmountable.”

Officials from both counties will decide whether to adopt a fully regionalized model or to continue down the path of having a shared director, shared staff and more compatible software, Smith said.

Fully regionalized dispatch centers exist in Franklin and Benton counties, Asotin and Whitman counties, and Chelan and Douglas counties.

Benefits of regionalization include reduced overhead and redundancy, improved staffing, grant opportunities and centralized technology, Hatton has said.

Efforts are ongoing at PenCom for hiring new staff, replacing a 9-1-1 systems coordinator and “doing the things we normally do to keep our 9-1-1 center modern and moving forward,” Smith told the City Council on Oct. 2.

“2019, as we start, will be much like what you see now with a shared director at both centers,” Smith said.

JeffCom 9-1-1 is already an independent government agency.

The Port Angeles City Council has the final say on whether to sever PenCom from the city.

“It’s been at least five years since I’ve been working on it,” Hatton said of regionalization. “I’m not under any illusions that it’s just going to magically happen.”

“I’m hopeful that after the next meeting we’ll have some more firm direction,” Hatton added.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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