What is PSERN?

PSERN is the Puget Sound Emergency Radio Network, a voter-approved effort to replace our region’s aging emergency radio system with a modern, reliable network that provides greater coverage throughout King County.

When completed, the new system will be used by first responders — including police, fire and emergency medical personnel — in all 39 King County cities and throughout unincorporated King County.

PSERN is jointly owned by the City of Seattle, King County, Eastside Public Safety Communications Agency, and Valley Communications Center. An interlocal agreement outlines PSERN’s governance and operations.

Why do we need a whole new system? Why can’t we just replace a couple of things?

Every day throughout our region, first responders use outdated radio equipment. PSERN is building a modern system that provides the coverage and reliability needed to keep our communities safe.

Our current system is more than 20 years old and was designed in the mid-1990s to serve a smaller population across a smaller area. The existing system has gaps in coverage, does not account for our region’s recent growth, and forces first responders to use different channels to communicate during emergencies.

Why install a site in my neighborhood?

PSERN is a complex, vital, and wide-ranging effort to improve emergency radio coverage countywide and make it easier for first responders to do their jobs. To close gaps in the current emergency radio system, and to increase capacity and coverage, PSERN is adding radio sites throughout King County.

PSERN is expanding the existing emergency radio system from 28 aging radio sites to a network of up to 50 modern radio sites, including many in fast-growing urban and suburban communities, to improve coverage where first responders need it the most.

How much does PSERN cost?

PSERN was approved by nearly two-thirds of King County voters in April 2015. The project cost in 2019 is $281 million. The average homeowner pays about $27 per year to replace the outdated emergency radio system and improve public in one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States.

Is PSERN safe?

Yes. PSERN uses radio technology that has been proven to be safe and reliable. National safety limits for radiofrequency (RF) energy have been adopted by the Federal Communications Commission based on the recommendations of expert organizations and endorsed by federal agencies responsible for health and safety.

Data has shown there is no reason to believe that a radio site could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents.

Like television broadcasting, mobile phones and other personal electronic devices, many telecommunications applications make use of RF energy, including PSERN and emergency radio networks throughout the United States. According to the Federal Communications Commission, studies have shown that environmental levels of RF energy routinely encountered by the general public are typically far below the levels that could affect your health.

Why can’t first responders use their cellphones?

Cellphones lack the reliability that first responders need during emergencies. In addition, mobile phones do not have sufficient backup, or the capacity to operate in a power outage or other widespread emergency situations. In recent years, cellphones have proven unreliable during major emergencies, as networks become bogged down by the volume of calls.

Most importantly, cellphones do not work in the same way as an emergency radio system. Cellphones aren’t capable of operating in a “dispatch” fashion, where one first responder can broadcast to many others. A cellphone is also not capable of working off network in the way radio-to-radio operations are often used at fire scenes and during other emergencies.

Why create a new operator?

Emergency radio communications are a regional service and centralization is needed. The best model is to operate and own the new emergency radio system under a public, nonprofit entity.

The current system owners — City of Seattle, King County, Eastside Public Safety Communications Agency, and Valley Communications Center — have agreed to this approach and have drafted an interlocal agreement that will transition PSERN into a nonprofit entity once the project is complete.