South Sound 911 is bringing 988 counselors directly into the 911 center to provide immediate assistance for people in crisis in Pierce County. Trained counselors from Volunteers of America, the designated local 988 service provider, are working alongside South Sound 911 call takers to deliver emotional support, crisis counseling, and access to essential resources. This groundbreaking collaboration is the first of its kind in Washington.
South Sound 911 call takers will assess calls to determine if a transfer to a 988 counselor is appropriate. Calls transferred can include callers with thoughts of suicide when there’s no immediate threat to self or others, callers who are with someone exhibiting suicidal thoughts when there’s no immediate threat, or callers with recurring mental health episodes.
South Sound 911 call takers could transfer callers in crisis to on-site 988 counselors during peak call volume periods, 2 p.m. to midnight on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Outside of those times, call takers will follow standard call handling procedures which may include entering calls for law enforcement dispatch or a referral to 988 directly.
Implementation of this pilot program highlights South Sound 911’s commitment to mental health support. By providing 988 counselors in the 911 center, this program ensures timely mental health assistance by trained professionals to those in need, and reduces the overall strain on South Sound 911 staff and partner agencies.
“By integrating on-site 988 counselors, we are transforming how we support individuals in mental health crises, ensuring they receive immediate care from trained professionals,” South Sound 911 Executive Director Deborah Grady said. “Not only does this program reflect our dedication to our community’s well-being, it also helps us keep 911 lines available for emergencies and better positioned to accomplish our goal of providing the highest level of service for our community.”
About South Sound 911
South Sound 911 operates the largest 911 center in Washington, answering over 1 million emergency and non-emergency calls annually for 38 local police and fire agencies in Pierce County.
A standalone service, the 988 Lifeline, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, offers 24/7 call, text and chat access to crisis counselors who can help those experiencing suicidal, substance abuse and/or mental health crisis or emotional distress. When dialing 988 directly, callers are connected to a 988 staff member, rather than a South Sound 911 call taker.
According to statistics provided by 988 Lifeline, less than 10% of all calls handled by a 988 counselor result in a higher level of intervention, and less than 2% require law enforcement or emergency medical services response.