Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is PSERN?
A: PSERN is a public safety wireless communications program that will replace the current aging emergency radio communications network with a new emergency radio communications network.

Q: What are emergency radio communications networks used for?
A: When we call 9-1-1, a dispatcher sends us police officers, fire fighters, and emergency medical staff using a separate radio system known as the King County Emergency Radio Communications System. The same system is used by these responders to coordinate their activities at emergency incidents and to communicate with managerial staff that is directing their response to the incident.

Q: Why do we need a new emergency radio communications network?
A: The current network is approaching 20 years old and is in danger of failing if it isn’t replaced in a timely manner.

Q: How much will PSERN cost and how will it be paid for?
A: The project, including sites, equipment, labor, sales tax, and interest on the bonds will cost approximately $273 million.  The Metropolitan King County Council approved a measure to fund the project which was placed on the April 28th, 2015 ballot and approved by King County voters.

Q: What kind of funding measure is in place? What funding options were considered? Why was this option chosen?
A: The Metropolitan King County Council authorized a levy lid lift which King County voters approved on April 28th, 2015. Several funding options were considered including Criminal Justice Sales Tax, Emergency Communication System Sales Tax, Excess Levy, Excess Levy and a Levy Lid Lift, Sharing the Financing with the Subregional Entities, Sharing the Financing with All Jurisdictions and Partial Funding Options. It was decided that using a Levy Lid Lift is the only viable option for funding a new system with a single taxing measure.

Q: How much are taxes going to increase?
A: 7.0 cents per $1,000 of assessed value over 9 years.  This equates to $26.46 per household, per year for the median value of $378,000.

Q: Can’t we just replace a couple of parts or migrate rather than replacing the whole system?

A:   The parts that the current system uses won’t be compatible with the new network. In addition, the current system cannot support the new technology PSERN will have.

Q:  Why must a new system be funded now rather than later? What are the risks of delaying funding until later?
A:  The longer we delay after spare parts and repairs cease to be available at the end of 2018, the greater is the risk that responders will be unable to communicate when needed.  Technically speaking, the system will lose capacity and coverage area. With the above said, we have taken certain precautionary steps to address system problems if this does occur.  For example, we have purchased a cache of spare parts.  If we do not have a part or our supply runs out we would then look to purchase the part from a secondary vendor.

Q: Are there additional concerns with our current system?
A: Yes.  The system was designed in 1992 for the County’s population at that time.  Since then, the County’s population and the dispersal of that population have grown in ways no one could anticipate.  As a result, our system does not cover all of the areas in the County where services is needed and is lacks the capacity needed during large-scale disasters and incidents.

Q: Why can’t first responders use cell phones?

A: Cell phones are not an option due to lack of reliability. They don’t have sufficient back up or the capacity to operate in a power outage or other widespread emergency situations.  Most importantly, they do not work the way emergency radio system do.  They are not capable of operating in a “dispatch” fashion where one person broadcasts to many people, nor are they capable of working “off network” such as radio to radio operations that are often used at fire scenes.

Q: Who is leading the program?
A: There are four owners of the radio communications system—Eastside Public Safety Communications Agency (EPSCA), King County, City of Seattle and Valley Communications (ValleyComm). Each entity owns separate towers and equipment run by a central computer. King County is responsible for leading and implementing the project on behalf of the owners and will see the project through to completion.

Q:  Is there a binding document guaranteeing the County can effectively manage vendor contract(s) and other parts of the program?
A:  The County and other partners are in agreement about roles and responsibilities during PSERN planning, construction, and testing, and that agreement is in the Implementation Period Interlocal Agreement.   This Interlocal Agreement will form the basis for PSERN program governance.

Q: Will the ownership and operation of the new system remain the same as for the current system?

A: A new consolidated operational and governance agency will be created. This public, non-profit organization, working closely with the current co-owners, will take the lead with the purchase, implementation and testing of the new network.  It will also operate and maintain the new system infrastructure going forward.  It will have the same level of jurisdictional representation as the current emergency radio system and will have increased representation from the first responder community.  An Operations Period Interlocal Agreement has been drafted to address governance of the operations of the PSERN once completed.

Having a single entity operating and maintaining the system infrastructure, rather than four entities doing that work, should result in improved service: when there is a problem with the system we will be able to skip the step of determining which owner is responsible to fix it.

Q: Who will run the non-profit organization?

A: The organization will be governed by a four-person board of directors.  One board member will be appointed by each of the following: the City of Seattle; the 5 Valley Communications Center member cities jointly; the 5 Eastside Public Safety Communications Agency member cities jointly; and King County.  There will be two additional new members who will be appointed to the cities not otherwise represented on the board—1 non-voting police representative and 1 non-voting Fire representative.  Each member will have an equal vote.

Q:  How long will it take to complete the program?
A: Once construction begins, it will take approximately 5 years for completion.

Q:  Why is there a 20% Contingency?
A:  We only have one opportunity for program funding and cannot go back for additional funds. If there are cost overruns, the County would be responsible for them so we need to ensure that a contingency is available. The County has a program management methodology in place, however, on a project this size there are significant risks—specifically site development. As part of the planning phase, the County interviewed internal and external construction consultants and a 20% was contingency the consensus.

Q: Why don’t the four system co-owners have savings to pay for the capital costs of the new system? 
A: Each of the co-owners put aside some funds for a new system.  Over the years of operating the current system savings have been used to fund mid-life upgrades that have kept portions of the network refreshed as well as adding capacity to certain areas.  Today these savings in aggregate are very small compared to the cost of a new system.

Q:  Weren’t replacement reserves supposed to be accumulated by the co-owners for system replacement, and if so, why can’t they fund the program?
A:  They can, however this is a large project and the accumulated funds are less than 1/20th the total project cost.  The County and co-owners do not have sufficient available funds to pay for a project of this size without additional revenue.  In 1992 when initial planning for the current network was done, a formula to generate replacement reserves was created by each of the four owners.  Through time those funds have been used to keep the current system upgraded, and to support early phases of the PSERN project. Even if the funds weren’t spent over the years, we would have less than ¼ of the total PSERN program cost because in 1992 no on:)e could have anticipated King County’s population would increase so fast nor cover so large an area of the County.  Also, because the practice has been to use funds for mid-life upgrades, co-owners need to retain their funds until the PSERN has been completed to ensure they have contingency to maintain the current system.

Q:  If the County is paying for all the assets, why shouldn’t the County operate and maintain PSERN both during the program and after it is completed?
A: The County Executive believes that centralization is needed for this regional service and that the best model is to operate and own it using a public, non-profit entity.  Current owners have agreed to this approach and have drafted an Interlocal Agreement that will accomplish this.

Q: How long will the County need to operate and maintain PSERN after Full System Acceptance?
A: An Implementation Period Interlocal Agreement contains provisions for automatically transferring PSERN from the County to the non-profit operator once the program is finished.

Q: What will happen to PSERN operations and maintenance if the non-profit operator does not take over PSERN at or soon after FSA?
A:  In this event, the County will own and operate PSERN, but only until such time as it can be transferred to the non-profit agency.  The Implementation Period Interlocal Agreement contains provisions for partners and users to pay the County for its operation and maintenance of PSERN after PSERN starts operation until the ownership and operations is turned over to the non-profit organization.

Q: How can we be sure there will be no need to dip into the Current Expense Fund because of cost overruns or unanticipated expenses? Who will be responsible for cost overruns?
A: The county and its partners have done much to ensure that all costs have been accounted for in the program budget and subsequent funding measure.  Technical consultants were used to analyze needs and assist with development of system requirements.  A competitive RFP process was used to get the best system vendor at the best price.  As the program goes into implementation, it will be subject to program governance with and external to the County, and also expects to hire an independent Quality Assurance firm, as well as independent construction management to oversee civil radio site work.  The combination of these will help contain costs.  Lastly, the program has hired a competent and experienced program staff that will utilize project management best practices.

Q: How long will the system last before we need to fund a new one?
A: The new system will last at least 20 years.
Q:  Today radio system users pay monthly fees for use of the radio system.  Could the new system’s capital costs be funded through rate increases rather than a tax increase?

A: This is possible, but not practical.  To pay for capital costs monthly fees would need to more than double.  Monthly fees are usually paid out of the agency’s general funds, so any increase in rates would impact that agency’s fund source.

Q: Why are there two different rates for radio users?
A: 1. Some radio users use less features than others, therefore providing service for them is less expensive.
2. We want to encourage users to use PSERN, especially those that have various types of demands such as school districts and utilities.

Q: How does this relate to the discussions I’ve heard about the possible decrease in the number of 9-1-1 dispatch centers?

A: There is no relationship between the PSERN project and dispatch center consolidation.  They are independent initiatives.  System planning has included all of today’s centers.  If there are fewer centers that are in business when system equipment is ordered, our order and design will be adjusted accordingly.  The Interlocal Agreements will also make commitments to continue service to the dispatch centers.

Q: Is there widespread support for a new network and the ballot measure from city elected officials, police and fire chiefs, police and fire line staff, emergency managers, dispatchers, and County Executive?
A: There is a clear, shared vision of the need to replace the current system and build a new radio system now.

Q: There have been some concerns raised by Junior Tax Districts such as Fire Districts about revenues being negatively impacted by the levy lid lift. Is that true?
A: Fire districts should not be harmed due to this measure. Last year, assessed property values in King County increased significantly, so we anticipate that the County tax rate will decrease sufficiently to cover potential impact to all Fire Districts.  Other junior tax districts such as Parks and Hospital districts could be impacted in the initial years of the measure.

PSERN Technical Design FAQ

Q: Did the Project work with a technical expert to develop PSERN system requirements?
A: Yes. In early 2013, King County hired a Technical consultant, Stantec (formerly known as “Sparling”) to work with us and our partners to develop the Request for Proposal (RFP) requirements for the PSERN system.
Q: Did the Project include County-wide stakeholders in this process?
A: Yes. The technical consultant Stantec wrote the RFP requirements for the PSERN system based on a series of meetings the PSERN Project held with regional stakeholders to develop system requirements. In addition, we worked with our partners (now the Technical Committee) and Stantec to ensure that the RFP/Contract followed industry standards and best practices. And prior to advertising the RFP, the Project brought the requirements to regional stakeholders for their approval.
Q: How do you know the Technical Committee is knowledgeable in this area?
A: The PSERN Technical Committee is comprised of staff from regional partners that have experience in building over 25 radio systems.
Q: Once the RFP was developed, how was a system vendor chosen?
A: Potential vendors were chosen using a competitive bidding process. Potential bidders were asked to propose a design that would meet the RFP requirements. Once proposals were received, the County, its partners, and Stantec worked together to evaluate those proposals. Motorola Solutions Inc.’s (MSI) proposal was evaluated as the proposal that most closely met the requirements, and they were selected to enter negotiations. During negotiations the County, the Technical Committee, and Stantec worked with Motorola to dive deeper into the “preliminary design” to agree to the best design that would meet our RFP performance and coverage requirements. MSI was named apparent successful bidder in May 2014 and after lengthy negotiations a contract with them was executed in December 2014.

Q: Who is responsible for meeting all of the performance requirements for the new system?
A: The contract with MSI designates them the sole contractor responsible to build the new system and meet its performance requirements. They will act as both a manufacturer and an integrator for this project. Once the system is built, we have a set of comprehensive tests that will be used to verify each contract criteria and ensure it was delivered as contracted. Stantec will assist the Project and its partners in assessing the test results to ensure contract compliance.

Q: Did you do an independent engineering analysis to ensure adequate coverage with the new system?
A: We worked with our technical consultants and technical committee to ensure radio coverage requirements were carefully put together to meet the criteria for the project. MSI is responsible to develop a design that will provide a quality radio emergency radio system. Stringent coverage test requirements were also specified in the MSI contract to ensure that coverage meets the specifications. In addition, Stantec will assist the Project and its partners in assessing the test results to ensure contract compliance