Zetron MAX Dispatch systems installed at two Washington State PSAPs improve interoperability, support remote dispatching, and allow the agencies to back each other up if the need ever arises.
Rich farmlands, rocky saltwater inlets, and fields of tulips that stretch as far as the eye can see. These are some of the things Washington State’s Skagit and Island counties are known for. But there are other, day-to-day realities affecting these two neighboring counties that, while less obvious to those who don’t live there, are vitally important to those who do.
One of them is the need for what Skagit 9-1-1 director, Bill King, refers to as “continuity of operations.” “Continuity of operations is a FEMA term that to us means the ability to keep providing our services, even if we have to evacuate our site or our equipment goes down,” he says.
While continuity of operations is something many PSAPs wish for, budgetary constraints and logistical complexities can make it hard to achieve. That’s why the joint effort to install Zetron MAX Dispatch systems at Skagit 9-1-1 and Island County’s I-COM 9-1-1 is noteworthy. The new equipment not only updates their technology, but allows the two agencies to take over each other’s dispatch operations, if necessary, with just the click of a mouse.
Skagit 9-1-1 and I-COM 9-1-1
From its office in Mount Vernon, Washington, Skagit 9-1-1 answers emergency calls and provides dispatching for the county’s fire, law-enforcement, and emergency medical services (EMS) agencies. I-COM 9-1-1 provides these services to neighboring Island County from its office in the city of Oak Harbor, Washington.
Bill King explains how updating the two PSAPs’ dispatch systems became a joint project. “Skagit 9-1-1 and I-COM have been sharing a microwave network and backing up each other’s 9-1-1 call-taking for some time,” he says. “We’ve developed a very good working relationship over the years. So when we realized that both of our existing Zetron systems had reached their end of life, we thought it would be the perfect time to not only replace the equipment, but to extend our emergency backup capabilities to dispatching as well.”
The two agencies began holding weekly meetings to discuss what they would both want and need in a new dispatch system. Several key requirements emerged from these discussions. One was that the new equipment would have to be IP-based in order to provide the expandability and adaptability both agencies wanted for the future. It would also have to support interoperability and be easy to learn, use, and administer. Last but not least, it would have to deliver a powerful return on investment.
The winning proposal
In March of 2013, Skagit 9-1-1 and I-COM issued a joint request for proposals (RFP) delineating their requirements. Several vendors responded, but at the end of April, the project was awarded to Zetron reseller, Silke Communications, based on their proposal featuring Zetron’s MAX Dispatch system. Headquartered in Eugene, Oregon, Silke has offices throughout Oregon, Washington, and California.
“We chose Zetron and Silke for a combination of reasons,” says I-COM assistant director, Alice Johnson. “Silke has many years of experience and a great reputation. And we’ve been very pleased with the performance and reliability of our previous Zetron systems. MAX Dispatch was also the solution that best addressed our specs. It is IP-based, flexible, and easy to use and configure. Plus, Zetron’s technical support is fabulous, and they can log into the system remotely to view and troubleshoot any issues we can’t resolve ourselves.”
“We also conducted a thorough cost-of-ownership analysis projected out over five years,” adds Skagit 9-1-1 technical services manager, Mike Voss. “MAX Dispatch would deliver the best value over time. And Silke offered the best options for the system installation.”
Staging at Silke
Although the installations did not occur simultaneously—I-COM’s was first—the implementation process for both systems was similar. It began with staging the equipment at Silke Communication’s office in Salem, Oregon.
“It was a group effort,” says Silke Communications senior regional manager, Starsky Brolin. “Our technicians staged and racked everything and set it up just as it would be at Skagit and I-COM. Zetron remoted into the system and helped with the configuration process and also came to the sites to help with the install and training. Both agencies’ technical staff also helped with the final installation and configuration.”
Remote access during staging
One unique aspect of the project was that dispatchers were able to remotely access and work with the systems as they were being staged.
“Before the new system even arrived, we were remoting in, creating screen layouts, and getting accustomed to its look and feel,” says Johnson. “When it did arrive, we were familiar with it and already had some idea how to use it.”
Because the staging was so thorough, the final installations were, as Mike Voss puts it, “…pretty much plug-and-play. We installed the new system alongside our old one, activated the new consoles one at a time, completed the cutover, and removed the old equipment. It was seamless.”
The transition was also an easy one for dispatchers. “I expected some reluctance,” says Johnson. “But as we brought the new consoles up, the dispatchers were in line, asking to be next to start using one.”
Johnson says that although she’s very happy with the new equipment overall, there are a few features that stand out for her.
“Officers now have an emergency button on their radios,” she explains. “An officer who’s in trouble can push the button, and an alert with the officer’s ID appears on the MAX console. We can dispatch help quickly if an officer needs it. Also, a dispatcher who wants to replay an audio transmission can quickly find it by going to the frequency and bringing up a list of recordings broken out by unit ID number.”
Perhaps most important of all, however, is the fact that Skagit 9-1-1 and I-COM can now operate each other’s radio frequencies from either center. “If we need Skagit to take over our dispatching,” says Johnson, “they can do it from their consoles. And we can do the same for them.”
It’s going on a year since the systems went live, and everyone involved with the project is more than pleased with the results.
“A change of this magnitude can be a hard sell,” says King. “But the new equipment has been very well received. Even our dispatchers and member agencies, who are tough audiences and not shy about telling us what they think, are very happy with it. It is delivering the IP-based flexibility, improved interoperability, crystal-clear audio, and continuity of operations we were hoping for.”