Our Voice: Regional dispatch system will save lives and money

We've long advocated for regional approaches to shared issues and expenses, given the number of jurisdictions in our community that duplicate services.

It's easy to cross from one city to the next or from a city to county without even knowing it because our community flows and continues to grow. The only significant dividing lines are rivers spanned by bridges.

So it makes perfect sense that we need a regional approach to emergency communications. After all, a criminal fleeing police isn't going to let something like a bridge stop his flight. Fires don't respect city limits or county lines, either. And we expect our communities to look out for each other, responding to problems in neighboring jurisdictions when help is needed.

That's one of the benefits of having so many governments in a concentrated area - additional police and fire resources are right next door when needed.

Last month, commissioners from Benton and Franklin counties brought a regional emergency communication system a little closer to reality when they agreed to have a consultant create a detailed plan for just such a project.

First and foremost, a regional communication system would improve safety. That there might be a little cost savings isn't of significance when we're talking about the health and welfare of our citizens.

Right now, Benton and Franklin counties have separate 911 dispatch centers. That means a cellphone call might be directed to the wrong center, slowing response time in a potentially urgent situation. Police in the two counties use different radio systems as well, adding additional issues with communication among agencies.

Richland and Kennewick operate on the same system, but police on the north side of the river have their own radio system. If Pasco police cross into Kennewick, communication issues can erupt, jeopardizing officer and citizen safety.

The fire departments use the same kind of radios but still have some issues with communications.

The new system would alleviate those problems. The main dispatch center would be at the existing facility in Benton County, with a secondary location in Franklin County. The plan foresees a slightly smaller staff and streamlined operating costs that could cut $500,000 per year.

But officials stressed savings are not the motivator for the change to a regional system -- it is for the safety and well-being of the public. Improved service is invaluable when seconds count.

Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear, with 29 years of firefighting experience in the Tri-Cities, said that if the plan becomes reality, it would be "probably one of the most important things that ever happened in my career."

Officials expect to have the design finished in spring 2014. It can't come soon enough.

Then we hope the counties can move quickly to produce the final plan and put it in place for the good of our community.