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Benton and Franklin Counties near completion of 9-1-1 dispatch service merger

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4-10-18 UPDATE:

BENTON AND FRANKLIN COUNTIES, WA - It's been a long time coming: the 9-1-1 dispatch merger for two local counties.

This, of course, is to help with emergency response times and adding resources.

The talk of merging 9-1-1 calls from both Benton and Franklin Counties into one dispatch center has been in talks for over a decade. With fire season fast approaching, commissioners are looking to speed up this process to get things up and running by this summer.

The plan is simple: regardless of where you are in the region, calls reach one singular dispatch center. This way, first responders have immediate access to information to find out what resources are needed and are able to get to those in need as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

In taking the time to consolidate these centers, administrators hope people calling in won't feel a huge adjustment.

"We hope to bring those together in a seamless transition, where hopefully the average citizen doesn't really notice when they make their 9-1-1 call where it's routed to to make that transition as seamless as possible," said Keith Johnson, a Franklin County administrator.

Without question, commissioners say the biggest obstacle is making sure that the emergency, fire and police departments in both counties are prepared for the changes, while also preparing for a strenuous fire season.

If all continues on schedule as planned, commissioners hope the consolidation of both centers - along with updated software - will be complete by this summer.


6-13-17 UPDATE:

BENTON AND FRANKLIN COUNTIES, WA - The Benton County Commissioners signed their end of the 9-1-1 dispatch merger this morning at their meeting in Prosser. The vote came out two to one, in favor of merging Benton and Franklin County's dispatch operations. 

Commissioner Shon Small said that this is a significant step toward streamlining 9-1-1 systems in Benton and Franklin Counties, but it's by no means the last step.

Benton County has been working since January to approve the Transition Agreement in order to adopt a new inter-local agreement; regionalizing services in Benton and Franklin Counties.

Small says the process of other jurisdictions approving these changes could take a month or longer, but he adds it's only a matter of time before all the agencies get on board and start training new dispatchers.

"We're just getting that much closer," Small said. "I would assume that the end of this month, all of the different entities will have signed, and therefore, we can continue to work forward and actually build 9-1-1 communications better than what it was."

Reporter Rex Carlin reached out to the Franklin County Commissioners today to see what the timeline is for the Franklin County side to approve it, but hasn't heard back from them yet.

Commissioner Small says he hopes and expects it to actually be implemented sometime in early 2018, which he says will give them enough time to hire and train qualified dispatchers to fill needed roles within the new system.


6-7-17 UPDATE:

BENTON AND FRANKLIN COUNTIES, WA - It's been talked about for years...combining 9-1-1 services between Benton and Franklin Counties. The decision to simplify the dispatch services was informally approved yesterday by Benton County Commissioners.

"I know myself that I've been working on this for six years," said Shon Small, a Benton County commissioner.

Small is talking about a single 9-1-1 dispatch operation center serving the mid-Columbia region. The decision was informally voted on at yesterday's Benton County Commissioners Board Meeting, but not all were in favor of partnering with Franklin County.

"The only issue we were looking at is some of the financial concerns," said Small. "We always wanted them to become a subscriber and they elected not to do that. So we continue to go forward, and now those guys are going to become a partner."

Thousands of emergency calls in our area are routed to the wrong dispatch centers, which results in delayed responses.

"Most of these calls are going to be under one house, which is paramount," Small explained. "So therefore, there's not going to be transferring calls, possibly dropping them, those types of things."

The dispatch center will be housed in the Southeast Communications Center in Richland. The biggest bonus here is that communication will be seamless with all of the different agencies within Benton and Franklin Counties.

The hardest part about this entire process isn't combining the two counties together, but hiring and training qualified dispatchers. Depending on how fluid that process is will determine when the new service will be up and running. 



KENNEWICK, WA - Consolidating the 9-1-1 dispatch system in the Tri-Cities has been in the works for several years. But now, it looks like it'll be happening soon.

Benton County Commissioner Jerome Delvin says he hopes all the agreements will be worked out within a couple of months, and then after that they'll move forward with the plan in the next six to eight months.

"The partnership is going back and forth from the attorneys for the cities and the counties right now," Delvin said. "So once that's finalized, then the BCS board will address it...either accept it or not, and then we'll have to have each jurisdiction take a vote on rafting that local agreement."

Nowadays, more people rely on their cell phones, and that can cause a problem for dispatchers. Kim Letterick with the Benton County Emergency Center explains more about this issue.

"The call is routed to the nearest cell phone tower," Letterick says. "If that tower is busy, then it will look for the next available tower and move alone until it finds one, and if that's in an adjacent county then you are going to get that phone call."

Letterick explains what they do and how they deal with phone calls from a different county.

"If it's occurring in an adjacent county, they are similar to auto-dial on our phone," she said. "That you click on that button and it automatically transfers you and the caller to the appropriate jurisdiction, and then we announced to that jurisdiction the information we have so that the reporting party doesn't have to say the information again."