The 911 report recommends consolidating the communication centers
The report on the plan to consolidate statewide public safety response points, Federal Engineering, presented to the Arkansas 911 board of directors earlier this summer, recommended that the city of Hot Springs to move its PSAP to the Garland County 911 Communications Center.
The recommendation took the city by surprise, as Federal Engineering advised it to expand the PSAP / dispatch center inside the police department as part of the communications upgrade of over 6 million people. dollars on which the city has been working since 2017. This expense included the contract for $ 415,062 the Hot Springs Board of Directors awarded Federal Engineering for its consulting services.
Federal Engineering is the company “we used to come up with our radio communications plan as well as our PSAP dispatch plan,” City Manager Bill Burrough told the board during its working session on establishing targets and budget priorities for 2022 last month. “We have invested several million dollars in our 911 communications and dispatch center.
“Their final report said the Garland County PSAPs should be merged into one, and Garland County should be that one. I have a huge problem with that, just because they drove us over the way of spending money and then making another recommendation to the state.
Burrough said the city is no longer working with the Virginia-based company.
“I feel Federal Engineering owes us money,” he told the board. “We have already notified them to cease and desist from all work for the Town of Hot Springs. I don’t want another bill from them.”
Federal Engineering recommended counties or jurisdictions with populations of less than 150,000 have only one publicly funded primary PSAP. The state has hired the company to outline a plan to reduce the number of PSAPs from more than 100 to less than 80, a reduction imposed by the Public Security Act of 2019.
Primary PSAPs, which can receive 911 calls and dispatch emergency personnel, are funded by fees that telecommunications providers collect from customers. The 2019 law doubled the monthly surcharge from 65 cents to $ 1.30 per device, an increase intended to reduce a $ 20 million shortfall in collections and 911 operations statewide.
The Public Safety Surcharge helps support major city and county PSAPs. The county has budgeted for an allocation of $ 1.6 million, according to the 2021 budget passed by the Garland County Quorum Court. The city’s population-based share of $ 1.6 million was budgeted at $ 573,000.
The supplement does not support secondary PSAPs, which do not have the dual capability of receiving 911 calls and dispatching emergency personnel.
The city and county said call volumes warranted two main PSAPs in Garland County. According to the Federal Engineering report, 911 calls received by the two sites totaled more than 74,000 last year.
County Judge Darryl Mahoney said the area’s tourism industry can increase the number of people in Garland County by up to 75% on busy weekends, creating higher call volumes than counties of similar size or larger.
The 911 Communications Center that the county built in the old detention center next to the sheriff’s department has five consoles. The facility has a capacity of twice that number, said county emergency management office director Bo Robertson.
“We have five fully functional 911 and dispatch stations on the ground,” he said. “We have the plans, the data drops, the power cuts, everything is already done in the wall for five other fully functional dispatch stations and 911.
“We could effectively double our ability to take and dispatch 911 calls on the ground now. All of this is already finished in the wall and the conduit has returned to the server room. “
Former city manager David Frasher rejected a proposal to consolidate 911 the county launched in late 2016, telling The Sentinel-Record that the city wanted to keep its own policies and procedures for responding to 911 calls and send emergency personnel.
Since then, the city has cited other obstacles, such as software incompatibility, to consolidation. Spillman Technologies is the city’s computer-aided dispatch software provider, and Southern Software powers the county’s dispatch system. The city said their incompatibility makes a merger impractical and prohibitive.
“If the city and county agree to consolidate and use a single facility to dispatch calls, we will most likely only be using one system,” said Robertson. “Whichever one is used, the other should convert (their call history data) to the one that’s left over. These conversion fees don’t come cheap.”
The city and county both use AT&T hosted solutions to route 911 calls to their PSAPs. The platform cuts down on transfers inherent in a county with two main PSAPs, but Burrough told council calls are sometimes misrouted.
“Even with the triangulation, we still have issues now where I could be in town and hit a tower in the county and talk to the county first,” he said. “These things are going to happen again.”
Burrough told City Council that if consolidation goes ahead, the city will continue to send its emergency personnel out of the police department’s dispatch center. This would require that 911 calls for municipal service be transferred to police service dispatchers, which would delay response times.
Mahoney said the county and city plan to ask the 911 board to keep their respective PSAPs.
“I think the city of Hot Springs and Garland County are both trying to put some numbers together to see what it would take to consolidate,” he said. “We don’t want to sacrifice service. We both have great dispatch centers right now. They are doing a fantastic job.
“It will probably be a long term process to try to consolidate. I think we have room here to develop and accept all the sending people into our facility. This is something that we will be working with the city to do. see where we’ll have the best service. Our first option will be to go back to the 911 board and submit a proposal to try to keep two here. “