Why do we need a whole new system rather than just replacing a few parts?

Our current emergency radio system (KCERCS) is more than 20 years old and was designed in the mid-1990’s to serve a smaller population in a limited portion of King County (e.g. where the population resided in the mid-1990’s). Due to advances in technology and exponential population growth, the existing KCERCS now has gaps in coverage and is totally unsupported by the manufacturer. As with all technology, at a certain point, infrastructure, along with end user equipment, needs replacement. None of the existing infrastructure is supported by the manufacturer and no other technology exists that could supplant emergency radio technology; therefore, it became necessary to replace the entire KCERCS network. The PSERN Project is expanding both the infrastructure, including adding more than 20 more radio tower sites throughout the county, and providing radio end-users with up-to-date radio equipment.

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 The average homeowner pays about $27 per year to replace the outdated emergency radio system and improve public in one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States.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. The system is being built to meet the national safety limits for radiofrequency (RF) energy that have been adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 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. More information can be found here.