Frightening failures for the new emergency radio system

Apr 20, 2018

As mayor, one of my other responsibilities is to represent Mill Creek on the Snohomish County Emergency Radio System (SERS) Board.

It is a responsibility I take very seriously.

For 19 minutes, beginning at 12:12 pm on January 12, 2018, SERS experienced a catastrophic failure of its emergency radio system crippling a major portion of Snohomish County’s emergency 911 dispatch communications.

Where the radio service failed, police and fire responders were unable to communicate with each other or with 911 call dispatchers. Emergency radio communications were disrupted impacting public safety agencies serving approximately 400,000 people including Mill Creek and surrounding communities.

Radio system users including enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics rely on push-button radio voice communications. Those responders could not be heard by dispatchers. This 20-minute disruption of service created an additional safety risk that could have delayed providing vital emergency services to 911 callers needing emergency services.

SERS staff immediately launched an emergency repair effort that restored service. The failing components are believed to be at least a decade old or older. They failed due to their advanced age and heavy use over the years.

On April 2, a part at the Clinton radio transmission site failed which caused the Remote Site Controller to fail. When this part fails, the site will not process incoming call requests. Calls in impacted areas are only possible if there is overlap by other sites.

The very next day, a component at the Camano Island site failed. This failure also had the same effect of reducing the area where new calls for service could be originated.

What is troubling is the two most recent failures happened within days of each other at two separate locations and were caused by completely different failed components. This could indicate the entire system at these remote sites is beginning to fail as the system is now approaching its end of life.

Beginning in 2020, parts and components such as those that failed and were replaced will no

longer be available from the existing system manufacturer. SERS is currently stockpiling spare parts purchased on Ebay and Craigs List from departments that have already upgraded their own aging radio systems.

Because of the likely future system failures, SERS and Snohomish County 911 will conduct training sessions with public agency subscribers. Repeat failures are likely to occur more frequently as the current Public Safety radio system reaches its end-of-life. At that time the manufacturer, Motorola, will no longer guarantee parts or support the 20-year-old outdated analog radio system equipment.

SERS has recently gone out to bid for an updated, more reliable digital radio system. The cost is estimated at $75,000,000. More on that and how we will pay for it when the winning bidder is announced.

Great job Gina H.!

Our Public Works Department is currently repairing a sink hole in one of our subdivisions. Because our new Director of Public Works and Development Services, Gina Hortilloso, jumped on the problem early, it will only cost $250,000 to fix the damage as opposed to the original estimates for $500,000. Gina’s quick response limited the damage and saved the City $250,000.

Thank you Gina!

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