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A 2013 report from the legislature’s Blue Ribbon Committee

on Local 911 Systems emphasizing standardization of equip- ment and practices is starting to see results. But as usual, the big question remains: How to pay for the improvements?

Story by Eric Francis For County Lines

above ground in an old fire station … [and] when you issued a tornado warning for Conway County, and you’d be sitting there in an exposed environment,” said County Judge Jimmy Hart, who’s been in office since 2001. “Our 911 center was in the same way. When you have critical infrastructure like that, when you lay down at night and wonder what happens when a black cloud in the west comes at you and you don’t have an EOC, a 911, they’ve been taken out….” It was, Hart saw, an issue that couldn’t be placed on the back burner. Still, it was about 10 years before a solution was found — one that involved not just the county EOC, but 911 dispatch for all emergency responders in Conway County, in the form of a vacant 1936 Post Office building with a fallout shelter in its basement. If it was built to keep people safe in the event of nuclear war, Hart figured it would do just fine during a tornado, as well. What’s more, it allowed for a merger of the county’s OEM and the city’s police dispatch center, run out of headquar- ters where dispatchers also had to do double- and triple-duty as jailers and cashiers. Te county acquired the building (which is listed on the


National Register of Historic Places) about four years ago, and with 7,000 square feet split just about evenly above and below ground, it gave them plenty of elbow room. It took close to a year to complete the conversion of the basement, but for three years the center has been in operation as a countywide dispatch hub and Hart couldn’t be happier with the collaboration that


here was a time, in the not so distant past, when some of the people most at risk during severe weather in Conway County were also those who could least be spared: Te Office of Emergency Services.

“Te story I got to tell is we had an EOC in a metal building,

went into creating it, and still goes into running it. “Our board governing 911 is an intergovernmental body,” he said. “Everybody needs to feel like they have ownership of it. We’ve always had one PSAP; I’ve got to take my hat off to the city of Morrilton, they housed it for a long time and subsidized it quite heavily. [Now] the intergovernmental council I feel like is a good fit for the administration and direction of 911.” Follow Conway County 911 Administrator Steve Beavers into his domain, through doors with ID card-operated locks, and you’ll find as homey an emergency operations bunker as you could ever hope to find. Encompassed by thick masonry walls, it’s well lit and airy, with a few windows that let in just enough natural light. It has a large conference room that can double as a command center during natural disasters; kitchen and bath facilities; and a secure dispatch room with three stations running Smart911, a staff of eight full-time and three part-time operators (two on duty at any given moment), and an adjacent equipment room where the beating, digital heart of the operation resides. It is, quite frankly, just about exactly what was envisioned in the 2013 report of the Legislative Arkansas Blue Ribbon Com- mittee on Local 911 Systems. And it could be a model for other jurisdictions within the state. All it takes is money — something Hart is all too aware of in his office on the second floor of the Conway County Courthouse. “If we hadn’t done it the way we done it, we probably

couldn’t have done it,” he said. “Our intergovernmental council and the mayors realized we’d have to subsidize it, but also realized getting those critical communications in a safe environment was paramount.” Even when you secure the funding, though, the work isn’t

over. Beavers, the 911 administrator, noted for example that get- ting the data from residents necessary to take full advantage of Smart911’s features has been something of a project. Smart 911 is a national safety device that allows residents to create for their


Setting stand for emergency services

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