Funding for Improved Emergency Communications

Brad Stiener, Executive Director with SERS (Snohomish County Emergancy Radio System) spoke to our club about the measure on the November 6 ballot to update the County's emergency radio system. Brad graduated from University of Washington in 1998. 
 
Brad Steiner
 
SERS provides all wireless communication for emergency responders.  911 works and is reliable.  You need help and you need help quickly. 
 
There is a lot that happens between you and the call.  SERS kicks in as soon as the call is connected.  They determine what you need, who is closest to respond, and they dispatch emergency responders. 
 
19 sites across the county.  Millions of transmissions per year.  19,000 per day.  Even while services are in route to you, SERS is part of the conversation.  SERS is a non-profit organization.  They don’t build towers to make money but to get the services to people. 
 
During the Oso slide efforts, SERS provided communication services.
 
SERS was originally deployed in 2001.  Much of the original equipment is still operating and carrying your emergency calls.
 
When the connections breaks there will be a reliability problem with the service and decreased safety.  The technology the system uses is dated and will eventually wear out.  They are starting to see more failures.  There was a 20 minute outage.  Half the County lost its ability to communicate.  Some failures are random.  We are the last County in the state of our size and complexity to migrate to newer technology. 
 
When 911 doesn’t work we are all at risk.  Most sites have generator power so if the power grid goes down 911 should continue to work.  SnoPac and SnoCom came together last year.  SERS will be part of Snohomish County 911 as of January 1st
 
All funding comes from each emergency agency.  It is a voluntary assessment as SERS has no authority to assess fees. 
 
A temporary site could be up within 15 minutes in arriving on scene.
 
Funding request placed on November 6th ballot.  The County Council unanimously approved placing it on the ballot.  The need has been independently verified.  Many other county, city, and state agencies have upgraded. 
 
Here are some common questions:
 
Don’t I already get taxed for 911 services on my cell phone bill?  The E911 tax does not pay for local emergency services. 
 
Why can’t emergency personnel use cell phones?   The radios are built to be rugged.  Cell phones are just now working on ruggedness and don’t have the performance of a radio.  Radios can last at minimum 10 years.   The battery may lose a little less.
 
Why now?  If funding passes SERS is ready to move forward with obtaining bids.  It will take a couple years to upgrade and train emergency personnel.  2021 would be the goal for transitioning.  No more manufacturers support on existing equipment after 2020.
 
What will be the tax?  1/10th of 1% sales tax (10 cents per $100 purchased).
 
As a representative of the agency Brad was limited to giving facts and figures and not advocating a "yes" vote, but he could leave us with the message to "Please Vote!"


 
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