New dispatch center may be formed from SNOPAC and SNOCOM

The 2 agencies have been working on a consolidation effort
By Marie Haaland | Sep 15, 2017

An ongoing plan to consolidate the two Snohomish County emergency dispatch centers may be approved as early as next month.

“We believe we can be more efficient coming together,” said Terry Peterson, the executive director of Southwest Snohomish County Communications Agency (SNOCOM).

The proposed merger would take place between SNOCOM and Snohomish County Police Staff and Auxiliary Services Center (SNOPAC). The discussions regarding consolidation have been ongoing for years, but the most recent round of discussion started last spring.

That’s when a study was completed by a consultant hired by Snohomish County. It showed that consolidating the two agencies would lead to a variety of improvements, including the level of service being provided to Snohomish County residents.

Mill Creek Police Chief Greg Elwin said the merger is really for the public’s benefit.

“The underlying goal is to provide a better public safety product to the people who live in the area,” he said. “There are inefficiencies with having two dispatch centers.”

One such inefficiency is that SNOPAC and SNOCOM both provide service to an unincorporated area in Snohomish County. The area, much of which borders Mill Creek and Lynnwood, has a demarcation line drawn through it from a policy decision made a decade ago.

Mill Creek Mayor Pam Pruitt explained that to the north of the line calls currently go to SNOPAC, and to the south, calls go to SNOCOM.

“Cell phones got popular, calls are bouncing off cell phone towers, and calls are going to the wrong place,” she said. “It will all be seamless now.”

The rise in the number of calls from cell phones means the problem has become worse in recent years. Pruitt said that “80 percent of emergency calls are now from cell phones.”

When calls go to the wrong place, it creates the issue of delays due to transfers. According to SNOCOM’s Peterson, there are 45,000 transfers back and forth every year between the two agencies.

“On average – it can vary – but it takes about 21 seconds to complete the transfer,” Peterson said.

Per year, this is a total of about 11 days of hold time, in which people are waiting to receive help. The number of call transfers hinders the success of the system as a whole.

Besides eliminating the issue of delays due to call transfers, the consolidation also would save money, for several reasons.

One of which is the number of employees; SNOPAC and SNOCOM have a total of 159 positions between the two organizations.

“We believe we can do the same job with 144,” Peterson said. “If we do consolidate and downsize the number of positions, we’ll let it happen naturally through attrition.”

It was made clear by the boards of both organizations that people would not be laid off due to the merger. Peterson believes that it will only take a year or two to downsize.

The goal is that over the course of 2018, the two organizations will work toward a full consolidation. Having SNOPAC and SNOCOM in the same building also will help the dispatch system to work more efficiently.

Reducing the number of jobs and working from one building would result in over a million dollars in savings every year.

“A lot of really good work has been done by the two boards and the joint task force,” Elwin said. “Some of the biggest challenges have been around coming up with a good governance model.”

The boards for SNOPAC and SNOCOM are reviewing the documents for the consolidation agreements. Any changes they have will be presented at the next meeting on Sept. 21.

Then, hopefully on Oct. 12, the two boards will vote on the consolidation agreement. All cities being affected by the merger also will need to sign an interlocal agreement before the consolidation goes into effect.

If the effort is approved, the new name for the organization will be Snohomish County 911.

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