Bella Vista Radio Club pushing emergency communications plan
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.”
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.