Skagit 911-Overworked

Dispatcher Melissa Heller mans her console in July 2015 at the Skagit 911 call center off East College Way.

Skagit 911’s board of directors began work Monday on the emergency dispatch center’s first strategic plan.

This comes after a commissioned report on the center in November identified understaffing, lack of space and dated technology as major roadblocks to continued operations.

Julia Johnson, Sedro-Woolley mayor and chair of the board, said the goal is to get all the stakeholders in the county’s 911 system moving in the same direction.

Without a strategic plan, Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton said organizations tend to play “whack-a-mole,” where they deal with issues as they arise rather than preparing for the future.

The center has operated without a strategic plan since it was formed about 20 years ago.

“We have a lot of years to make up for,” said Skagit 911 Executive Director Helen Rasmussen.

She said understaffing and space are her two biggest priorities going into this process.

The center is budgeted for 42 full-time employees, but constantly operates with fewer. To get rid of mandatory overtime, the center would need about 50 employees, according to the report.

Rasmussen said she’s already taken some steps to address this. The new contract for Skagit 911 dispatchers includes raises of between $3,000 and $7,000 a year, making their salaries more competitive with other dispatching centers.

She said she’s also been given the OK to hire a human resources employee, and hopes these changes will help with employee satisfaction.

Despite a recent remodel, Rasmussen said dispatchers are packed into the dispatch center. At some point, she said, the center will need to find a way to move or expand.

“Space is a critical need for us,” she said.

She said the dispatch center will hire a facilitator to assist in the strategic planning process.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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