Negotiations begin for one emergency dispatch center for both Peninsula counties

PORT ANGELES — Negotiations are underway for a regional dispatch center that would provide 9-1-1 services for the North Olympic Peninsula.

The Port Angeles City Council voted 7-0 on June 5 to authorize Chief of Police Brian Smith to negotiate with JeffCom 9-1-1 for a regional emergency dispatch center and report back to the council within 90 days.

Peninsula Communications, or PenCom, is a division of the Port Angeles Police Department that serves 17 police, fire and emergency services agencies in Clallam County.

Officials with PenCom and JeffCom 9-1-1 have been discussing regionalization for years, most earnestly in the past 18 months, said Karl Hatton, regional emergency communications director.

The benefits of regionalization range from reduced overhead and redundancy, improved staffing, state grant opportunities, centralized information technology systems and the potential for a new 9-1-1 center that would serve both counties, Hatton said.

Hatton has managed the dispatch centers in Clallam and Jefferson counties since March 2016.

“PenCom is in a home that’s too small for it, and has been for some time,” Hatton told the Port Angeles City Council.

“We manage. JeffCom is in a home that’s entirely too small for it. We barely manage.”

The Port Angeles police and fire departments, Sequim police, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office and Clallam County Fire Districts 2 and 3 have agreed on how PenCom could operate outside the auspices of the city of Port Angeles, Hatton said.

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

“We have a consensus on a governance model, a financing model and how a separate PenCom can work,” Hatton said.

“Ultimately, it’s the city’s decision.”

Officials with PenCom’s five largest partner agencies are working with JeffCom 9-1-1 to determine if a merger is feasible.

“The players need to have a voice no matter how big or small they are,” Hatton told the council.

Last year, PenCom and its 23 employees handled 37,500 9-1-1 calls and another 126,400 non-emergency calls originating in Clallam County, Smith said.

As users of the service, the Port Angeles police and fire departments contribute about $448,000 to PenCom’s $2.8 million annual budget, Smith said.

The 17 agencies that use PenCom are represented on the PenCom Advisory Board, Smith said.

“The money for PenCom comes from sales tax, predominately 9-1-1 phone tax, user fees and state grant money,” Smith said.

JeffCom 9-1-1 gets about a third of the calls for service that PenCom handles annually, Hatton said.

The state Legislature has taken an interest in 9-1-1 funding and how counties could save money through consolidation, Hatton said.

Each 9-1-1 center has its own computer dispatch system, structure and 9-1-1 technology, he said.

“We’re having a hard time justifying spending so much money on so many disparate systems when it would really make sense to start bringing those together and formulating some actual plans,” said Hatton, who serves on a state subcommittee on 9-1-1 policy.

Existing regional dispatch centers are in Franklin and Benton counties, Asotin and Whitman counties, and Chelan and Douglas counties.

State-funded studies on North Olympic Peninsula emergency dispatch consolidation were done in 2000 and 2016.

While no decisions have been reached, Hatton said one possible site for a new regional dispatch center would be in west Port Angeles near William R. Fairchild International Airport.

“There’s several locations that we’ve looked at as there’s potential here, potential there,” Hatton said.

“Really it will come down to economics. Where’s the easiest and best to build? What kind of infrastructure is being offered there? What’s a long term lease look like there and how centrally located is it for two counties?”

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

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