PORT ORCHARD — It’s 2 a.m. and a police officer has pulled over a driver on an isolated rural road on suspicion of driving under the influence. The officer calls for back-up assistance before approaching the vehicle, but emergency dispatch is unable to hear the call.
A fire crew is called to a house fire in a remote part of Kitsap County. Upon arrival, firefighters hear a person yelling from inside the burning building. The crew calls for another unit to respond, but the request is never heard.
Such troubling scenarios could play out in parts of the county due to Kitsap 911’s outdated 911 communication system, according to South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Jeff Faucett. The current system does not provide reliable coverage for parts of the county where population has grown dramatically since the system’s original design, Kitsap 911 officials said. The aging radio system has limited capacity and cannot keep up with the increasing 911 incidents, they added.
Assistant supervisor Drew Tetrick described the systems’s problems on a Kitsap 911 website video:
“In times where a unit is in a bad radio coverage area, there is poor radio reception. They might make a radio request to us that we can’t hear clearly and we have to ask them to repeat it or maybe call us on the phone. In an [emergency], seconds count. The more we can minimize those things, the better.”
Spotty radio coverage between the Kitsap 911 dispatch center and fire, police and medical responders, and the unpredictability of first responders communicating among themselves during an emergency, is the reason behind Proposition 2, according to officials. Voters will cast their ballots on the measure in the Nov. 2 general election.
Voters will decide on Nov. 2
Voters will decide whether to approve Proposition 2, which would fund a $41 million modernization of Kitsap 911’s emergency communications system with a sales tax rate increase. A 1/10th of 1% sales tax increase would add 1 cent to a $10 taxable purchase, according to Kitsap 911’s website. If approved, the measure will cost the average taxpayer about $16 per year.
Kitsap 911 is not part of Kitsap County government and receives no financial support from property taxes. It is funded primarily by use fees from police, fire and support agencies, and from sales taxes and 911 telephone taxes, according to 911 officials.
“This for us is a firefighter safety issue. Our radio coverage is severely hampered,” South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Jeff Faucett said.
“For firefighters and police officers, the initial few minutes arriving at the scene of an emergency are the most important. That is when the emergency is not yet under control. Sixty percent of our responders had difficulty transmitting because of radio traffic caused by static or because there are so many responders using their radios.”
Kitsap County’s current 911 communications system implemented in 1998 is now decades old. A recent 911 coverage study shows that many areas in Kitsap County have substandard public safety coverage, officials said.
Faucett said he was recently driving in his SKFR vehicle on Mile Hill Drive when he heard a 911 report of a house fire on Long Lake Road.
“I was only about 5 miles away. But I couldn’t hear what the on-scene fire crew was saying. We were unaware what was happening or if the crew needed anything. Things like this happen every day.
“For the majority of the South Kitsap Fire District, [firefighters on the scene or responding units] can radio others only if they are outside of a building. If they are inside fighting a fire, we can’t hear them — it’s scratchy or we have to have K-911 relay the information to us,” Faucett said.
Kitsap 911 is the countywide 911 emergency communications and dispatch center for all local fire service, police and emergency medical services. The call center is responsible for dispatching the appropriate police, fire or emergency medical assistance to emergency locations.
K-911 handles an average of 1,000 calls each day, officials said, and call volume has increased 50% since 1997. The agency operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Law enforcement agencies using the system include the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and police departments serving Bremerton, Bainbridge Island, Port Gamble, Port Orchard, Poulsbo and Suquamish. Fire departments reliant on the emergency system include those on Bainbridge Island and in Bremerton and Poulsbo, as well as South Kitsap, Central Kitsap and North Kitsap fire and rescue departments.
Kitsap 911 is independent from Kitsap County and receives no financial support from property taxes. It is funded primarily from use fees paid for by police, fire and support agencies, and from 911 telephone and sales taxes, according to 911 officials. Police and fire and rescue administrators say the manufacturer of the county’s emergency communications equipment will no longer support the system beginning in 2028.
Passage of the proposition will secure funding to replace the entire emergency communication system and ensure safe and effective radio and data communications for first responders. It would include upgrades to the county’s radio towers, mobile computer terminals and radios used by first responders in the field and Kitsap 911’s computer-aided dispatch equipment and software.
There is opposition to the measure, however. Opposing the passage of Proposition 2 is a group identified in the county’s voter pamphlet as VoteNoK911. The group’s voter’s guide statement against passage states that K-911 has been aware of the required system upgrades for several years and complained the agency’s lack of planning for the future is now being passed down to the citizens of Kitsap County.
Group opposes K-911 measure
“This is a one-time technology upgrade, yet the tax will never go away. No reason for a forever tax has been given and little to no detailed plans of how the fnds will be used has been provided,” the group’s statement read. “Any sales tax increase is regressive and unfairly impacts the middle class and lower income.”
The group’s voter’s guide statement asserts that K-911 administrators have been aware of the required system upgrades for several years and complained that the agency’s lack of planning for the future is now being passed down to the citizens of Kitsap County.
Voters wishing to learn more about Proposition 2 can tune into a Zoom meeting by 911 officials, planned for 6 p.m., Oct. 19. The virtual hall can be accessed at kitsap911.org and will include a question-and-answer segment.