Bella Vista Ra­dio Club push­ing emer­gency com­mu­ni­ca­tions plan

The Weekly Vista - - News - KEITH BRYANT

The Bella Vista Ra­dio Club met with po­lice, fire and dis­patch per­son­nel to dis­cuss a joint emer­gency plan be­tween the club and the city.

Jack Fel­len­zer, public in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the club and chair­man of the Bella Vista Public Safety Com­mit­tee, said the club worked with for­mer Po­lice Chief Ken Farmer to build a ba­sic emer­gency plan.

“(It) is very rudi­men­tary,” he said. “It’s not fin­ished, it’s not tried, it needs a lot of work … At some point in time, we will need to do more than a cou­ple of ex­er­cises to see ex­actly how it’s go­ing to work.”

The club could help the city in an emer­gency that knocks out com­mu­ni­ca­tions, he said, though ide­ally this is a plan that will never need to be im­ple­mented.

He wanted to dis­cuss the plan in a gen­eral sense and share the writ­ten plan with the de­part­ments, he said — par­tic­u­larly now that the Po­lice De­part­ment has a new chief and dis­patch su­per­vi­sor — and meet again to es­tab­lish a more com­plete plan once ev­ery­one has had a chance to read through it and con­sider it.

That more de­vel­oped plan, he said, will then need to be tested, prob­a­bly sev­eral times, to work out the kinks.

Fel­len­zer said his over­all vi­sion is to have a por­ta­ble com­mu­ni­ca­tions kit at ev­ery fire sta­tion. Op­er­a­tors could pull the equip­ment, plug it into an an­tenna at the sta­tion, then be­gin com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

The club has ac­cess to a re­peater tower just across the state line, he said, which has proven very ef­fec­tive, and no­body has been able to find any spots in the city that do not get a sig­nal. If tow­ers are down, he said, hand-held ra­dios can still com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with each an­other.

While the club has vol­un­teers avail­able near each sta­tion, he said, he’d also like to see po­lice and fire per­son­nel trained and li­censed as ra­dio op­er­a­tors. The li­cens­ing, he said, costs $15 and is good for 10 years. With the amount of in­for­ma­tion avail­able on­line, he added, there’s lit­tle need to buy books to study. More­over, he said, get­ting li­censed is eas­ier now that test­ing can be done in Bella Vista.

Ad­di­tion­ally, he said, equip­ment is cur­rently af­ford­able, mean­ing any in­vest­ments the city makes in ra­dio gear does not need to be par­tic­u­larly dras­tic.

“There’s sup­port out there, there’s train­ing out there,” Fel­len­zer said. “We just need to iden­tify what you guys think you need.”

Fire Chief Steve Sims said that his de­part­ment has UHF, VHF, dig­i­tal and low-band com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment, and they can still use all of that. The de­part­ment, he said, is well cov­ered in terms of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, though an­other op­tion isn’t a ter­ri­ble idea.

“If you go back and look at his­tory, ham (ra­dio) op­er­a­tion is of­ten­times the only thing,” he said. Ham ra­dio is a term that refers to am­a­teur ra­dio op­er­a­tors.

Po­lice Chief James Graves said there is a de­gree of li­a­bil­ity with vol­un­teers. Prospec­tive vol­un­teers need, at min­i­mum, a stan­dard crim­i­nal his­tory check and fin­ger­prints need to be run, he said, to pos­i­tively iden­tify them. This wouldn’t be a huge ex­pense, he said, but it is some­thing to con­sider.

Pur­chas­ing ra­dio equip­ment, he said, is some­thing the de­part­ment may look into dur­ing the next bud­get cy­cle.

Graves said he is in fa­vor of mov­ing for­ward with the plan.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “The small­est mi­cro level or macro level comes down to com­mu­ni­ca­tion. When it hap­pens we’ll at least have the abil­ity.”

Keith Bryant/The Weekly Vista

A mo­bile ham ra­dio unit the club agreed to do­nate to the city. The unit can be mounted in a ve­hi­cle, club public in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer Jack Fel­len­zer said, or it can be mounted in a per­ma­nent lo­ca­tion.

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