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County ambulance system prepares for upgrade

February 9, 2019

MOUNT VERNON — With the transition to city control behind them, stakeholders in the Skagit County ambulance system are looking forward to a technological transition.

Emergency Medical Services Director Jeff Sargent said the county is about a year and a half away from implementing Quickest Route, a program that tracks ambulances in real time and dispatches them to the closest 911 calls.

However, at a stakeholder meeting Thursday, he said his department is relying heavily on the county’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Department and it’s running into a bottleneck because there aren’t enough staff members to handle the work.

“We’re putting a ridiculous amount of pressure on a system that’s already pretty taxed,” he said.

As more and more county projects depend on mapping data, Sargent said the demand on the GIS department will increase.

“To make this work, we really need to add (staff) hours,” he said.

Implementing software such as Quickest Route has been a goal of the department for years, and it’s set to be completed by June 2020.

Sargent said the system looks similar to navigation software such as Google Maps, but it’s built to minimize errors in routing.

“When it comes to life and death stuff, we’re using the absolute best data we can get,” he said.

The upgrade depends on several other software updates that will be happening between now and the planned rollout date, which Sargent said is part of why it will take about 16 months.

County Commissioner Ron Wesen suggested at the Thursday meeting that it might be time to look at what cities and fire districts pay Skagit 911 for dispatching services, as a way to help allocate resources for GIS.

Under Skagit 911’s 2019 budget, the county covers 85 percent of the cost of EMS calls countywide. This means some fire districts get to be part of the system by paying as little as $268 per year.

Sargent said he understands that fire districts have limited resources and doesn’t want to overburden them.

“But there’s also a cost to doing business and a cost to supporting the system,” he said.

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