Emergency radio system running on borrowed time

MARYSVILLE – The Snohomish County Emergency Radio System is having its own emergency.

SERS spokesman Ralph Krusey and consultant Andy Roushak said the “mature radio system” has “reached the end of its life.”

The almost 20-year-old system is the infrastructure for 9-1-1 calls. “Failure is not an option” for the life-saving system, Krusey told the City Council Monday.

By 2020, the system provider, Motorola, will not manufacture parts, or provide tech support, anymore.

The pair said the county is up to three years behind neighboring counties on making a change. They predicted it would take up to five years to get a new system in place. The cost could be up to $75 million, they said. Depending on the formula used, they said Marysville residents could pay between $3.20 per $1,000 valuation to $5.57 cents per $1,000.

Some benefits to a new system include:

•Communicate with neighboring counties.

•Digital so it’s less noisy.

•Many vendors means competitive pricing.

•Double the call capacity.

SERS provides service for 50 local public safety agencies. The SERS representatives said cell phones are not yet an option because there are too many areas that are out of range, “remote dead spots.” Also, cell phone lines often get jammed during an emergency, which is the last thing first-responders want.

They said they looked at other options but this is the only logical one for the next 20 years.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring, president of the SERS board, said Tuesday that many entities passed 20-year bonds in 2000 to pay for this system. “It’s not prudent to do before the old bonds are paid off,” he said, adding the reason for the presentation was to educate the public and elected officials about the issue.

The city has been stockpiling old parts just to keep this system running until it can be replaced. “There will be some lag time” of the years between 2020 when support ends, and whenever a new system is in place. “It’s not optimal, but it will get us through,” he said.

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