Local emergency service agencies are being asked their opinions on a state-mandated drive to establish a single 9-1-1 dispatch center for Clatsop County.

The state of Oregon is requiring counties to centralize their 9-1-1 services or risk losing their share of state funding. In Clatsop County that will mean combining the two dispatch services operating from centers in Astoria and Seaside.

An 9-1-1 advisory committee representing local police, fire and ambulance agencies has sent out a survey to all emergency service providers. The survey asks each agency whether it supports consolidation, and its preference for the location of a new center, the source of funding to pay for the facility and its operational costs, and the type of organizational structure to run it.

The group is considering replacing the Astoria and Seaside centers with a new dispatch facility at the Rilea Armed Forces Training Center south of Warrenton.


LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

Dispatcher Barb Tarvin, who has worked for the Seaside center for more than five years, begins her Wednesday afternoon shift.the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners approved the responses for the county's survey. It accepted County Administrator Jim Azumano's recommendation that the county support consolidation and the Camp Rilea location.

Local emergency service agencies have been studying the issue for several years, but a state deadline is adding new urgency. All counties have until September to prepare a plan for consolidating their 9-1-1 services or risk losing their share of state funding. For Clatsop County that amount is almost $275,000.

The state is pushing consolidation in advance of new planned upgrades to 9-1-1 systems to enable them to automatically locate a caller's address and digitally record calls. The state doesn't want to pay to upgrade multiple dispatch centers.

Clatsop County Sheriff John Raichl said the county hopes to secure state funding for the estimated $1.18 million cost of the new proposed center and equipment. The current operational funding sources - the cities of Astoria and Seaside, user fees and state 9-1-1 funding - should provide the necessary support for the new center in the short term, he said. The fate of state 9-1-1 funding - the law providing the money is set to expire soon - will determine whether other funding sources will have to be sought, he said.

The Camp Rilea site has the advantages of a stable site away from tsunami inundation zones, as well as access to the back-up generators that power the entire facility, Raichl said. Rilea officials are supportive of the project.

Both the Astoria and Seaside dispatch centers have been considered as a site for the new central facility. But neither is large enough, and because both lie inside tsunami zones, each would require extensive upgrades if it was to be expanded to house the new center, Raichl said.

The advisory committee has drawn up several options for the organizational structure to run the new centralized service. Its preference, Azumano said, is a so-called "ORS 190" entity, named for the state law that created it, that would have the center run by an intergovernmental board representing the county, cities and emergency service agencies.

Seaside Police Chief Ken Almberg said he has no problem with the consolidation idea, but he said the city would lose out if its dispatch center was closed. Its dispatchers also monitor people held in the lock-up facility housed in the police station - with the dispatch center closed, the holding facility would close too.

The lock-up facility, with four two-person cells and an open area that can hold up to 30, serves as a short-term holding area for people arrested for drunken driving, public disturbances and other minor offenses. It is especially important during Spring Break and other high-volume periods - this year the department lodged a total of 86 people in the facility over the nine-day period. Without it, they all would have been turned loose, because the county jail in Astoria is almost always full.

"If someone is downtown screaming and hollering and being abusive, we can't do anything about it" without the lock-up facility, he said.

The county should first pursue the development of a new jail to provide needed beds before it pursues a course that will cost Seaside its holding facility, he said. A new consolidated dispatch center could be located in the new jail.

"From my viewpoint we need a county jail first," he said.

The Seaside center handles 9-1-1 calls and dispatching for the police and fire departments of Seaside, Gearhart and Cannon Beach. The staff consists of five full-time and two part-time dispatchers, a records person and a supervisor.