Seaside signal. (Seaside, Or.) 1905-current, October 12, 2018, Page 3A, Image 3

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    October 12, 2018 • Seaside Signal • • 3A
Jennifer Peden monitors multiple computer screens at Astoria 911 Dispatch.
South County emergency responders
look to fix spotty radio communications
By Brenna Visser
Seaside Signal
or emergency responders
in Cannon Beach, being
able to communicate with
dispatch over the radio
while on a call in certain
parts of South County is al-
ways a gamble.
For years, some areas
south of Tillamook Head have
earned reputations as perpetual
dead zones: Haystack Heights.
Sections of Tolovana. Large
chunks of the beach. Even
parts of downtown.
So far, these gaps have not
led to serious incidents, though
some situations teeter too close
for comfort. Police Chief Ja-
son Schermerhorn remembers
one officer’s struggle to call for
backup in a dead spot near Tolo-
vana during a drunken-driving
test on the side of the road.
“That’s their lifeline,”
Schermerhorn said.
Radio communication can
be so spotty near Hug Point
that Fire Chief Matt Bene-
dict recalls a rescue operation
where he was close enough to
see his crew and still not able
to reach them on the radio.
“It’s a big safety issue,” Ben-
edict said. “If I’m going to send
some individuals into a burning
house on a repeated channel I
may not be able to hear them
even if I’m able to see them.”
It’s an issue that has plagued
the region for years, and unfor-
giving topography is mostly to
blame. From Cannon Beach
to Falcon Cove, mountainous
terrain between radio repeat-
ers and the one radio tower
on Tillamook Head interferes
with the signals that bounce
between Seaside Dispatch and
first responders.
Though there is nothing
they can do about the moun-
tain range, the chiefs have
been looking at ways to make
communications more reliable.
Schermerhorn is applying
for a $130,000 grant to install
a new tower near Old Cannon
Beach Road on the north end
of town that would fill the gap
between an area known as “the
S curves” and Tillamook Head.
One of the difficulties Can-
non Beach faces, Schermerhorn
said, is that the main tower on
Tillamook Head is not owned
by the city, which means the
repeaters can be moved around
by the private owner.
“One was lowered last year,
and it made communicating
more difficult for Hamlet Fire,”
Schermerhorn said.
The fire district, however,
sees switching from Seaside
Dispatch to Astoria 911 Dis-
patch as a possible solution.
For as long as anyone can
remember, Cannon Beach and
Seaside have had a gentle-
men’s agreement to use Sea-
side Dispatch.
When Benedict took over
as fire chief in 2016, he noticed
the communication issues and
asked Seaside about what could
be done. But beyond the upkeep
of existing repeaters, he said
there isn’t much more the dis-
patch center could provide.
So Benedict began conver-
sations with Astoria 911 Dis-
patch, which has spent about
$3 million on improvements
to its system since 2007, said
Jeff Rusiecki, the emergency
communications manager at
Astoria 911 Dispatch.
“The 2007 storm really
caught the county by surprise
Public invited to cut
firewood in the forest
Seaside Signal
Permits to cut firewood in
the Clatsop State Forest are
available to the public.
Permits cost $20 and allow
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with how vulnerable our com-
munications were,” Rusiecki
After having major sites
fail, Astoria began submitting
grants, securing additional re-
peater sites and syncing them
up to make a more cohesive
countywide system.
By moving to Astoria, Can-
non Beach could work off 10
towers across the county rather
than relying solely on the one
on Tillamook Head, Benedict
said, improving communica-
tion quality.
The fire district could also
save some money in the long
run, Benedict said. Every call
that is dispatched through
Seaside costs Cannon Beach
fire and police roughly $35 in
comparison to Astoria, which
would charge about $22 a call.
“This isn’t so much
cost-driven as safety-driven.
I’m not saying we’re right
and Seaside’s wrong or Sea-
side’s right and we’re wrong,”
Rusiecki said. “Because we
have the county, we have an in-
terest in improving communi-
cations throughout the county,
and Cannon Beach is just one
of those challenging areas.”
An extra step
Mitch Brown, the commu-
nications manager at the Sea-
side Police Department, said
topographical barriers remain
a challenge. Conversations
about installing a tower at the
new Seaside School District
campus have begun, but for
now remain just discussions.
“It can be difficult, but
we’ve never had any serious
accidents,” Brown said.
Schermerhorn and Brown
share reservations about the fire
district contracting with Astoria,
however, raising concerns that
the change could mean more call
transfers, which lead to slower
dispatch times for fire calls.
“If a change happens, there
will be delays,” Brown said.
“There will be the extra step to
transfer fire calls to Astoria …
then they will have to request
our units for mutual aid.”
Rusiecki and Benedict be-
lieve the extra time the trans-
fers will take will be small,
but they recognize more un-
knowns can happen when
more transfers are introduced.
Ideally, Rusiecki and Ben-
edict would like to see a sim-
plified, centralized dispatch
center — a goal the county has
discussed in the past and the
state has recommended.
Besides being a costly en-
deavor, Rusiecki said, con-
solidating 911 operations is
controversial because it would
likely lead to shuttering the
holding cells in Seaside’s dis-
patch center. Unlike Astoria,
Seaside’s dispatchers have
multiple jobs at the police de-
partment, such as record- and
evidence-keeping, and moni-
toring the holding cells.
“If our dispatch went
away, you’d have to look at
filling those positions, and
you’d be losing the state 911
funds that pay for these posi-
tions,” Brown said. “The city
wouldn’t be gaining anything
from losing a dispatch center.”
For now, Astoria 911 Dis-
patch will continue working on
system improvements and the
fire district will monitor how
it works, Benedict said, before
making any decisions.
But one reality is agreed
“We’re not going to get
anywhere without 911 in the
middle,” Rusiecki said.
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Annual home tour
coming to Gearhart
Seaside Signal
of the Columbia Pacific
presents their 11th annual
Home & Chef Tour, “The
Beaches,” Saturday, Oct.
13, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Six wonderful homes
will be opened in Pine-
hurst, Surf Pines, The
Highlands, The Reserve
and Gearhart locations.
Each home will offer
delicious bites prepared
by a local chef includ-
ing Nisa’s Thai Kitchen,
Fulios, El Cartin Mexi-
can Cuisine, The Wayfar-
er and The Sweet Shop,
and feature floral ar-
rangements from Natural
Nook, Blooming Crazy,
Erickson’s and Elizabeth
Tickets are $30, avail-
able now through event
day at Holly McHone,
1150 Commercial St,
Astoria, Columbia Bank
locations in Seaside, As-
toria, and Warrenton and
online at assistancelea-
Home & Chef Tour
“The Beaches” direct-
ly benefits Assistance
League of the Colum-
bia Pacific’s Operation
School Bell Program
which in 2018-19 will
provide new clothing to
over 700 Clatsop Coun-
ty school children. The
home tour is the non-
profit volunteer organi-
zation’s major fundraiser.
League programs include
providing fees for chil-
dren’s after school ac-
tivities, prom gowns for
high school students and
Duffel Bags of Comfort
for children entering fos-
ter care.
D EL ’S O .K .
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2315 N. Roosevelt Dr. Seaside
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