Snohomish County may ask voters to fund aging radio system

Critical tool for first-responders, says Edmonds police chief
May 10, 2018

After more than a year of review and deliberation, Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring announced that Motorola Solutions Inc. has been selected as vendor to replace the aging Snohomish County Emergency Radio System (SERS).

Nehring is SERS president and board chairman.

Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan is a SERS board member. “I am excited that this huge project is moving forward,” he said. “Our emergency radio system is absolutely critical to all first responders and to those in need of emergency services throughout Snohomish County.

“I applaud the selection of Motorola Solutions as vendor of choice. There’s a lot of work to do, and I am confident they are up to the task.”

A contract between the county and Motorola will happen only after the County Council approves funding. That could involve a proposed ballot proposition – in the form of a levy or sales-tax increase – to be voted on in a countywide election later this year.

The deadline for submitting a ballot proposition is Friday, May 11.

Ongoing negotiations will now proceed to possibly reach a final dollar amount needed to acquire and install the new radio system. That stage of negotiations could be completed in June.

Preliminary cost estimates for the new radio system are between $60 million and $75 million.

Compaan said that SERS is the entity responsible for building, maintaining and now replacing the radio hardware, software and infrastructure that runs the first responder voice network in Snohomish County.

The SERS system covers 940 square miles and uses 20 towers.

“SERS doesn’t have the same glitzy branding, so to speak, as 911, which is the entity responsible for answering calls to 911 and then dispatching our first responders,” Compaan said.

“So in addition to finding organizational efficiencies by merging SNOPAC and SNOCOM into our recently formed Snohomish County 911, we believe there will be further efficiencies by merging SERS into SnoCo 911.”

The stated mission of SERS, formed in 1999, is to help ensure the safety of the citizens of Snohomish County who are served by first responders from 48 law enforcement and fire protection agencies.

That may require expediting high-quality and reliable emergency communications between 911 dispatchers and first responders who currently use 5,000 two-way, push-to-talk radios to communicate with each other.

SERS current radio system is a Motorola 800 MHz analog system that in 2020 reaches its 20-year end of life when replacement parts will no longer be available. The new system would be a P25 radio standard, digital system.

SERS experienced a black eye in 2016.

That’s when state auditors suspected fraud committed by the former director of SERS, Mark McDermott. They discovered that more than $192,000 in public money had been misappropriated, with an additional $45,000 in questionable purchases.

The fraud report followed a criminal investigation by Lynnwood police. No charges were filed after McDermott committed suicide in his Arlington home during the investigation.

 

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