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New communications center should help response time

By Tammy Keith

This article was published March 2, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

MORRILTON — The new communications center in Morrilton will be an asset in case of severe weather. If nothing else, the center should still be standing.

“As far as our building, the way it was constructed as a fallout shelter, it’s not going anywhere,” said Johnathan Trafford, director of the Conway County Office of Emergency Management.

The historic former Morrilton post office was renovated last year to be the home of the Conway County OEM and 911 communications center.

The 911 office was moved to the basement for security reasons, Trafford said, adding that the dispatch center was going to be “100 percent safe and secure.”

The basement was used as a federal fallout shelter in the 1960s, when the 1936 building was renovated, he said.

In an earlier interview, Trafford said that previously, if a big storm came through town, communications could be crippled.

The two entities had been separated. The OEM had been in the Morrilton Fire Station on East Harding Street for about 15 years. The 911 center had been housed at the Morrilton Police Department since the center’s creation in the 1990s, Trafford said.

The move made sense, officials said.

“We’re all in the same building, all the same location. Instead of being across town and having to send messages back and forth, we can walk across the hall,” Trafford said.

“We’re so happy with our new system,” he said.

The tornado sirens operate out of the dispatch center.

“The new communications center and upgrade of our equipment have greatly increased our efficiency as far as our early warning system and responding quickly,” Trafford said.

“We have a 100-kilowatt generator that’s in place out back in our parking lot,” Trafford said. “We’ve relied on it twice — once during the last ice storm, and there was a tower failure back before the end of the year; one of our substations had a malfunction — and we ran on generator power a couple of days. There was never a lapse in emergency response or communications, due to our generator.”

The 911 center in the Police Department had a generator, “but with this generator, it runs our entire building,” Trafford said.

Conway County Judge Jimmy Hart said police cars and firetrucks don’t matter if a city doesn’t have an adequate communication system.

“If we wind up with an F4, F5 tornado, we may lose a communications tower, but where this particular facility is, that nerve center is still going to be there intact,” Hart said in an earlier article published in the River Valley & Ozark Edition.

According to the website city-data.com, Conway County’s tornado activity is “significantly above” the state average and 5.7 times above the overall U.S. average.

Trafford said that in Conway County, “we’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had the tornadoes like ’08, ’09 and ’10. We hope to stay that way.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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