Thursday, May 30, 2024

This levy 'Yes' vote could save your life


NCW Media, Inc. had an exclusive interview with RiverCom Executive Director Misty Viebrock at the end of June. Viebrock explains why the upcoming August ballot measure is so important to the multi-jurisdictional agency.

NCW: What is your viewpoint of the role RiverCom has played and continues to play in the Chelan/Douglas communities it serves?

Misty Viebrock:  RiverCom is the essential link to public safety.  We are the core and heartbeat to the public safety system. When you call 911 for an emergency, we answer and obtain critical information about the scene and dispatch the appropriate responders as quickly and as efficiently as we can. We remain on the line to provide any additional support or guidance needed as well as to obtain any critical scene updates to relay to the responders. Situations tend to evolve rapidly as responders are enroute. We have a critical role to keep the responders apprised of any changes which may alter their response to the incident.  

In the last 4-5 years we have drastically reduced our call processing times for fire and medical emergencies. Through technology and enhancements, we dropped the call processing times from an average of 1.5 to 2 minutes down to 30-60 seconds on most fire and medical calls.  This is the time between answering your call and notifying responders.  

Let’s talk about life saves. Can you think of anything more important than being a part of saving someone’s life? Last year, our witnessed cardiac survival rates in Chelan and Douglas Counties was 57%, while the national average was 33%. The Telecommunicators at RiverCom start telephonic CPR right away as soon as it’s known the patient is not awake and not breathing normally, they coach and guide the caller and count out loud with them to keep the caller compressing at the right rhythm. CPR is exhausting work, especially when done correctly, we do a lot of encouraging and praising to keep the compressor going until help arrives and takes over. These life save percentages make me extremely proud!

We are always looking at ways to improve our service to the public and to our user agencies.  Technology proves to be a critical piece in doing so and does not come cheap.

I have operational changes that I want to make at RiverCom that I know will vastly improve our service to the public and our user agencies, but these changes all hinge on the renewal of the one-tenth of one percent.  One of these changes involve having dedicated call-takers. Currently we have no dedicated call takers.

Every Telecommunicator who answers the phone is also responsible to dispatch for one of our user agencies. This becomes problematic when they answer a 911 call and are trying to obtain critical information and/or provide Telephonic CPR instructions and then have an officer, deputy, firefighter or EMS responder talk to them on the radio. Our population growth since the inception of RiverCom in 2004 has significantly increased which has increased our call volume.  Our user agencies have increased their staffing which has increased the activity on the radio. The ability to manage both disciplines of call taking and dispatching simultaneously is increasingly difficult on the Telecommunicators and the service to the caller and our user agencies is not where I want it to be. The public deserves 100% of our attention when the are calling for help, they aren’t expecting that they are going to have to share their Telecommunicator with radio traffic. Our law enforcement, firefighters and EMS responders do not want to be told to “Standby” because we are on a 911 emergency telephone call. These are times that both our citizens and our responders deserve 100% of our attention.  
I look at the service we are providing and constantly evaluate it … our RiverCom 911 center must be good enough for my family and this is what the Director should say. At any given day, it could be my family or friends needing help.

NCW: Why is this levy request so important?

Viebrock: This is NOT a new tax, and we are not asking for an increase.  We have been paying this tax for the last ten years, we are asking for it to continue.

RiverCom is asking for renewal of the one-tenth of one percent sales and use tax allowed under RCW 82.14.420.   

The tax rate equals: $0.01 for every  $10 selling price/value; $.10 for every $100 selling price/value; $1 for every $1,000 selling price/value.

The tax is collected from all persons, residents and visitors, who pay sales and use tax in Chelan and Douglas counties. This method of tax collection allows for the cost to fund emergency communications to be shared by all who use such services in RiverCom’s service area.  

RiverCom utilizes this tax revenue to supplement funding for critical emergency communications in Chelan and Douglas counties and to bridge restrictions placed on other revenue sources.  The revenue received through the one-tenth of one percent sales and use tax provides a source of permanent, stable, and sustainable revenue for emergency communications systems and facilities in Chelan and Douglas counties.

RiverCom needs to keep up with the growth of our communities as well as the ever-changing technology.

For the past 10 years we have used the one-tenth of one percent money collected, for improvements to our radio infrastructure.  Several of our radio sites have gone through a complete overhaul. 

The new shelters are made with material to be more resistant to wildfire and the towers are grounded to reduce opportunity for a lightning strike to damage the equipment. These sites have also been built to include back-up power via battery banks, propane generators and even solar power at some sites.  A portion of this revenue has also gone back to our user agencies, again sole for improvements to radio interoperability.  We are not finished with our radio infrastructure, we still have a ways to go yet to overhaul more existing sites, build new sites and expand the radio system to fix the areas that we have limited to no coverage with our responders.  

The 911 system is much more complex than the phone system we use to answer your call, we must also be able to dispatch and communicate with our user agencies and those physically responding to your call.  The radio system, while it has received significant improvements, still has some shortcomings and locations where we cannot communicate with our responders.  This is unacceptable.  When we dispatch them to emergencies, we need to be able to communicate with them through the entire incident as they often time evolve, and additional resources or back-up may be needed.  This is a safety issue for our public as much as it is for our user agencies and responders.

NCW: What will the money be used for?

Viebrock: Future revenue will be utilized according to a Funding Agreement approved by the RiverCom Administrative Board.  The Board is made-up of representatives from Chelan County, Douglas County, City of Wenatchee, and City of East Wenatchee as well as other law enforcement, fire, and EMS representatives.  The Board will maintain the right to set an Annual Budget for the tax revenue.  All tax revenue will be maintained in a designated account.

The tax revenue will be used in accordance with RCW 82.14.420.
• Ongoing and scheduled replacement, repair, maintenance, and service of emergency communications systems, technology, equipment, and facilities

•Installation and implementation of mandated technologies and new technologies

•Capital Improvement Projects

•Provide a long-term stable critical infrastructure communication sites and facilities

•Continue to build-out and develop new and existing systems and technologies to improve emergency communications

NCW: Tell the readers more about RiverCom:

Viebrock: RiverCom is a multi-jurisdictional designated Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) that provides emergency call-taking and dispatch services for law enforcement, fire districts and departments, public and private ambulance services in Chelan and Douglas counties.  Dispatch operations are staffed twenty-four (24) hours a day, seven (7) days a week. RiverCom also owns and operates a public safety radio communications system located at various radio site facilities throughout Chelan and Douglas counties.  RiverCom is organized as a municipal corporation and as a separate legal entity under the laws of Washington State. The agency is governed by the RiverCom Administrative Board.   

RiverCom is one of 69 Public Safety Answering Points operating in Washington state.

RiverCom service area covers about 4,741 square miles.   

RiverCom serves a population of about 120,000 fulltime residents (not including visitors).

In 2018, RiverCom responded to a total of nearly 96,917 calls, including 49,730 9-1-1 emergency calls for service.


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