Bella Vista 911 calls go to county first
A 911 call in Bella Vista does not go to Bella Vista’s dispatch office.
Brianna Fields, deputy director of the Benton County Office of Emergency Communications, said that these calls go instead to CenCom in Bentonville, where dispatchers for the county accept calls. These dispatchers, she said, are trained to ask for a location first, and once they know a call is in Bella Vista, they forward it to Bella Vista’s dispatch center.
“Every call is unique in its own. If the caller can provide that address immediately, it’s an instant transfer,” she said. “It’s an automatic transfer, there’s no delay, no waiting.”
The important thing, she said, is verification. If the caller just gives a street address, for instance, particularly with a common street name, the dispatcher needs to verify the city to ensure they aren’t sending someone to the wrong town.
Depending on the shift, she said, CenCom may have between
four and seven dispatchers. In May the center took just under 3,300 emergency calls and just under 18,000 non-emergency calls. The call volume varies with the seasons, she said.
Mary Sullivan, 911 administration director for Benton County, said that Bella Vista does not receive 911 calls directly because it’s identified as a secondary office to CenCom, which is identified as the county’s primary public safety answering point, or PSAP. This designation, she said, was made in March of 2002.
“Our smallest primary PSAP is Siloam Springs,” she said, “and as of the end of June they have had a total 3,835 911 calls.”
That number averages to 767 per month.
In that same five-month period, she said, Bentonville had 7,497 911 calls, Rogers had 12,933 and CenCom received 17,007.
Bella Vista, she said, had 1,926.
The county’s 911 administration, she said, does provide funding for Bella Vista’s dispatch equipment, networking, trunk lines and maintenance, the same as the administration covers for a PSAP.
“They’ve got the exact same thing that everyone else has,” she said. “We pay for their equipment, we pay for the lines that go into that equipment.”
The funding difference, she said, is quarterly cellular funds issued by the Arkansas Emergency Telephone Services, or ETS Board. Cellular 911 fees, she said, go to the ETS board and are distributed to primary PSAPs.
Sullivan added that there is a moratorium on creating additional PSAPs in Arkansas.
Act 574, passed March 23 prevents any new PSAPs from being created in Arkansas until July 1, 2020, excluding those created as a result of consolidation with an existing PSAP or those created to replace an existing PSAP.
Bella Vista Police Captain Tim Cook said that he believes Bella Vista should be a PSAP.
“I think it would better serve the people inside our community, our residents and also the people traveling through our community,” he said. “It would give them a quicker response.”
In addition to having to wait for a transfer, he said, sometimes a caller, who may be in danger, will hang up after calling 911. If that hangup happens before the call is transferred, he said, Bella Vista doesn’t get the map data that typically accompanies a call and needs to call CenCom to find out what they know, further delaying the emergency workers’ response.
It’s difficult to say how often this is an issue, he said.
Bella Vista, he said, has had a 24-hour dispatch center since the 1970s.
“Prior to 911 being about, we had a dedicated emergency 7-digit emergency line,” he said.
Previously, he said, Bella Vista’s emergency dispatch was excluded because it was not a city at the time. The primary reason it isn’t currently a primary PSAP, he said, is poor timing.
Without functioning as the city’s primary, he said, Bella Vista can’t provide the best service possible.
“Bella Vista is going to continue moving forward and expanding and operating our 911 center and looking forward to the date when that legislation is no longer in effect to move forward and try and become a primary,” Cook said.