Port Angeles, Clallam County seek site for joint emergency center, dispatch facility

City council votes to let police, fire departments explore options with county

PORT ANGELES — City and county officials are looking for a site to build a joint Emergency Operations Center and Peninsula Communications facility, the Port Angeles City Council heard recently.

Meanwhile, negotiations continue for a consolidated PenCom-JeffCom 9-1-1 regional dispatch center, officials said.

The Port Angeles City Council voted 6-0 last Tuesday to authorize the police and fire departments to “begin a collaborative effort with Clallam County to explore options for a joint city-county EOC [Emergency Operations Center] to be co-located with a new PenCom facility.”

The Clallam County EOC is in the basement of the Clallam County Courthouse. The Port Angeles EOC is in the city fire station two blocks away.

Port Angeles Fire Chief Ken Dubuc said the courthouse basement is a poor location for an EOC and the city’s EOC is too small.

“We need to find a place for an Emergency Operations Center that is purpose-built and is specific for that need,” Dubuc told the City Council.

The Dec. 14 windstorm that resulted in a county-wide power outage was a “great, eye-opening incident for us to realize that we really need to move forward on this soon rather than later,” Dubuc said.

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

Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said PenCom has outgrown its 800-square-foot space at City Hall.

“The entire police department has 62 authorized people in a very small space,” Smith added.

“We don’t normally come to council and complain, but what we see in this EOC-PenCom possibility is that we could leverage two sets of needs and provide value to the city and to the residents.”

“We’ll still be working on a regionalization project that’s bigger than us,” Smith said of the proposed PenCom-JeffCom 9-1-1 merger, “but this is a tremendous opportunity.”

Clallam County commissioners voted in December to make the EOC a priority and “liked the idea of combining the dispatch center with it,” Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said.

Benedict said the city of Sequim, area tribes and Clallam County Fire Districts 2 and 3 “fully support this effort.”

“We’ve been kicking it around for about a year,” Benedict told the City Council.

“I think it’s time that we actually come up with a plan.”

Benedict suggested that the joint EOC be established in an existing building to save costs and eliminate delays.

Dubuc said a good location would be the west side of Port Angeles near William R. Fairchild International Airport, where assets are expected to arrive after a major earthquake or other disaster.

Randy Johnson, speaking as one Clallam County commissioner, told the City Council that a joint EOC would save costs.

“It just makes all the sense in the world to me if we could make this a priority,” Johnson said.

City Manager Nathan West said the council made the EOC a priority in its strategic plan, work plan and capital facilities plan.

“It’s coming before you again tonight as a legislative priority, and I think it would be a great thing to join the county with collaboration in looking for a new facility,” West said.

Smith and Port Angeles Mayor Sissi Bruch met with the JeffCom 9-1-1 board in October to discuss a possible merger with Peninsula Communications.

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, who also manages PenCom, has been a proponent of the long-planned consolidation of the two emergency dispatch centers.

After speaking with Port Townsend Mayor and JeffCom 9-1-1 board member Deborah Stinson, Bruch said JeffCom 9-1-1 was “interested and still available and open to work together.”

“I guess one of the things to think about is that county lines are actually just drawn on maps, and we are still part of the Peninsula,” Bruch said.

“And just like Sequim, Port Townsend is just right next door after that.”

Port Angeles Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter said a joint EOC and on-site dispatch center would be more efficient than the current model.

“It still seems like there’s going to be a lot of tough decisions ahead going through the nuts and bolts of this,” Council member Mike French said.

“But I strongly support this. It’s a great collaborative effort.”

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

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