By John Larson
Local government leaders gathered at a vacant lot on Sept. 19 to break ground on a facility that will house South Sound 911, a regional entity that will handle telephone calls for police and fire response. The location, just south of downtown Tacoma along Pacific Avenue, was once the site of Puget Sound Hospital.
Pierce County Councilmember Doug Richardson, chair of the South Sound 911 board, said the future building will allow the government partners to consolidate dispatch among several police and fire departments around the county. He acknowledged a number of elected officials in the audience, including Pierce County Prosecutor Mary Robnett. She replied that she once worked as a 911 dispatcher. “We could use you to cut back on some overtime,” Richardson said with a laugh.
Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier was the next speaker. He mentioned the death in the line of duty of Deputy Kent Mundell. He was killed in December 2009 while responding to a domestic violence incident in Eatonville, in which a man was fighting with his daughter and brother. The man fired a gun at the officers. Mundell was wounded, yet was able to fire his gun at the suspect, killing him. Mundell died at a hospital seven days later. Dammeier noted that during the incident, multiple 911 systems were in play, causing confusion for other first responders. The new agency represents a step toward better communication, and safety, for police officers and firefighters.
Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said that sometimes a tragedy leads to something better for the community. She said the site is in the center of the city and had become something of a dead space since the demolition of the former hospital.
South Sound 911 Executive Director Andrew Neiditz said that voters spoke clearly when they approved a ballot measure to provide funding for the future building in 2011. The new agency was created to unit six separate 911 centers. He said voters want better communication between police and fire departments, and the building and its systems will provide that. When it opens, it will feature a new computer-aided dispatch system and telephone system. The system handles an average of 2,500 calls a day. The future building and its modern technology will allow communication to take place in a more integrated fashion that what is currently possible, Neiditz said.
The project was originally estimated to cost $65 million. It is now under budget at $59 million. He credited this cost savings to close collaboration between South Sound 911 and architects and construction managers working on the project. Construction is expected to be completed in 18 months.