(The Center Square) – Pierce County is beginning discussions regarding the creation of a single unified emergency response radio system under an agreed upon governance plan aimed at saving taxpayer expense.
The proposed Resolution 2023-138 specifically requests the Pierce County Executive to work with the cities of Tacoma and Puyallup regarding the unified radio system. South Sound 911 would also be called to work with the three jurisdictions.
The Pierce County Police Chiefs Association and Pierce County Fire Chiefs Association identified the establishment of a single unified radio system as a top priority.
Resolution 2023-138 states that having two radio systems complicates communication during emergency events, depending on the geographic area and which agencies respond to the event. 911 dispatch consoles can only be connected to one radio system or the other, which limits operations.
The Pierce County Council authorized the creation of South Sound 911 to support two radio systems in 2011. One system is owned and operated by Pierce County and the other system is owned and operated by Tacoma and Puyallup.
South Sound 911 is funded in part by an Emergency Communication Sales and Use Tax, which tacked on a 0.1% sales tax increase when approved by Pierce County voters.
South Sound 911 has provided over $70 million from the Emergency Communications Sales and Use Tax to support the two radio systems and the public safety agencies who use them, according to Resolution 2023-138. South Sound 911 has set aside funding from the tax to support the establishment of a single unified radio system.
“The Pierce County Council believes a single system will achieve administrative, financial and operational efficiency, and will improve South Sound 911’s ability to provide the best emergency services to keep Pierce County residents safe,” the resolution states.
Zane Gibson, deputy fire chief at Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, spoke to the Pierce County Public Safety Committee regarding the need for a unified radio system. Gibson warned that while the merger is needed, it would cost taxpayers money.
“The elephant in the room is this cost of merging systems [which is] going to be in the millions of dollars,” Gibson said in Monday’s committee meeting. “And I think it’s solely important that we have some form of a single governance in order to manage that.”
Representatives from the Pierce County Police Chiefs Association, Pierce County Fire Chiefs Association, South Sound 911, Tacoma Fire Dispatch and other system owners are part of a project team working over the past year to develop a detailed design of a single unified radio system.
According to the Pierce County Finance Department, the project team is close to completing its plan.