With the fire season "coming down on us like a freight train," Utah County can't afford to put off an longer the establishment of an interagency emergency fire dispatch system, a forest official told county commissioners Wednesday.
To meet growing fire and emergency dispatch needs, Uinta National Forest officials propose the establishment of a dispatching center capable of coordinating all county emergency equipment, people and supplies to better prepare for disasters in Utah County."Needs aren't being met under the existing configuration," said Lyle Gomm, Uinta National Forest staff recreation officer. He said the county has outgrown its ability to respond to disasters, especially fires in rural areas.
"It's very urgent we do make a decision" as soon as possible.
The situation is especially bad in the eastern county "blind spot" areas that can't be reached with existing dispatching services, he said. Gomm said search and rescue, law enforcement and firefighting personnel have difficulty dispatching to and from the areas.
The implementation of the National Interagency Incident Management System in Utah County will solve problems with blind spots and offer improved and coordinated county dispatching services. Gomm said forest officials are especially concerned about being able to address fires at Elk Ridge, Timp Haven near Sundance and Woodland Hills.
"Autonomy no longer exists," according to a forest service report. "NIIMS provides the way. Resources are jointly pooled with less cost to each contributing agency. Joint unified command decisions are made that are critical in areas of mixed land patterns and urban interface."
For the county to meet dispatching needs with a dispatching office separate from the forest service's office, it must must spend
$350,000 setting up a microwave site and another $10,000 for a dispatcher. The forest service already has a separate microwave site and would spend only $10,000 for a dispatcher.
But maintaining separate sites means duplication of sites, equipment and personnel, and a setback in cooperation between the two agencies, Gomm said. In addition, the forest service would not have 24-hour dispatch services.
If the agencies establish an interagency office, however, each agency would have to spend about $50,000 each to meet needs, with the forest service footing a $35,000 bill for a radio console. Coverage would reach all Utah County, funnel forest service channels through the county's central dispatch, reduce the agencies' liability and improve service in case of flood, fire, earthquakes and other disasters.
"We're trying to get geared up," Gomm said. He said forest officials prefer to implement the interagency system despite the increased cost to the forest service.
Gomm asked for a commitment from the county within a week. The forest service wants a five-year "memorandum of understanding" and hopes to hire a full-time emergency dispatcher in August.
Commissioner Gary Anderson said the county hasn't budgeted for the expenditure. Gomm replied that one lawsuit brought against the county because of inadequate dispatching ability could prove much more costly.