Comfort is an important consideration when designing a 911 emergency call center and selecting the equipment that will go in it
Technological advancements drive console upgrades at 911 emergency communications centers, said Michael Wright, national sales manager for Watson Dispatch. Wright said that a center typically will look to update its consoles when it is executing a technology refresh, when radios, telephones or the computer-aided dispatch system is updated. In fact, technology drives the console design, and as it changes, the design will change, he said.
Indeed, each center's console design will depend on perceived needs and preferences, Wright said. For instance,systems can be operated via touch screen, push buttons or mouse keyboard functions and the choices made in that regard will have a profound impact on console design. So it is important that 911 center managers work with vendors to first determine the technology that will be used and how it will be housed. Managers also need to determine how many console positions are needed, where they will be located in the call center and how future upgrades will be funded.
"So the advice I give is to try to look to six years away and get a console that is flexible so it can change as your technology changes," he said.
Planning for the future is crucial to controlling equipment costs, said Bob Vincent, vice president of sales for console system integrator ModUcom, which also engineers and manufactures the electronics used in a 911 center. He agreed with Wright about the need for 911 managers to be forward-looking when considering an upgrade, advising that they try to determine whether the console equipment they are considering will be viable five years down the road.
Vincent predicted that the task won't be as onerous as it might seem — and won't require a crystal ball.
"When you are talking to furniture vendors, also talk to technology companies and ask what they feel will be needed in this migration path to meet the new requirements," Vincent said. "My [feeling is that] most of the changes coming down … are going to be software-driven, which is not going to affect a dispatcher's workspace. It will be easily upgradable because it's software driven."
Next, 911 center managers need to develop a budget based on a per-person formula, advised Richard Game, vice president of business development for Evans Consoles. For those starting from scratch, much of the facility's initial budget will be eaten up by architectural and design costs. But once that's out of the way, the budget and subsequent purchasing decisions will hinge on the number of operators, which in turn affects how each console will be used and determines the features that will be needed. For instance, a Tier 1 center in a major metropolis may have more than 300 operators working per shift, while a Tier-3 center might have three or less.
Such a disparity has a huge impact on console costs, which can range from $7,000 to $20,000, depending on features, Game said.
"It's just like a car. You can buy a Chevy or a BMW and they all look like a car, but it's the guts that make the difference."
After settling on a budget, Game said 911 center managers must ensure their console designs are operator-driven, with an eye toward comfort and ergonomics. When determining where to place equipment within a console, modularity and flexibility are integral to the ability to accommodate operators of different shapes and sizes.
An important initial decision concerns how much space is needed per person, per console. Wright said space per position can range from as small as a 6-foot by 6-foot area to one as large as 10 feet by 10 feet.
"When you are planning to remodel your center you need to also consider the traffic-flow patterns within the center, for example, whether or not to have any raised platforms for supervisors," he said. "So, the rule of thumb I use is 150 square feet per position — person, chair, technology and getting around the positions."
Jeff Rhodes, sales manager at Uptime Business Products, warned against filling a room to capacity with console furniture.
"The first thing they think about is that they have an 8-foot by 10-foot room and they want to fill it up with console furniture, thinking they need to wrap it around the room and not have any room to operate," he said. "Well you can't put an elephant in an outhouse. Look at the space and figure out the best way to use that space."
Ergonomics is another important consideration. Game said it means designing for dispatcher comfort, including leg room and the nosing of the desk or the console. "You should have a nice rounded edge, the more oblong the better," he said.
The design also should take into consideration sightlines and reach zones. Game said the dispatcher's eyes should see center and a third below the LCD. Reach refers to the touch screens, and dispatchers should be able to put their hands at a 45° angle to be able to touch the screens.
"In New York City, we had 12 screens," Game said. "You have to design in an ergonomic way, such as determining which are primary screens and which are secondary that can be tucked away or placed a level up."
Comfort is important because dispatchers sit at a console for 10 hours, and they want to be able to sit or stand, Rhodes said. As a result, a popular item is a motorized table that raises and lowers. It lets operators sit or stand and is adjustable.
"It's also important to have a good chair with a steel frame and plenty of support because they are in that chair for such a long period of time," he said.
It is a common request that a console adjusts from a sitting position to a standing position because these are multi-user, 24/7 operations, Wright agreed. While consoles that offer such a capability by their nature become wheelchair accessible, Wright cautioned that more is needed to ensure ADA compliance.
"You also have to consider the arms or equipment that may block it, such as turning radius, width of aisles," he said.
Game said a true 24/7 console has a solid metal frame — either steel or aluminum — that gives it the strength and lifespan 911 call centers need.
"They don't need a desk to fall apart in two or three years, especially with all of the equipment they are holding," Game said.
Once a basic console design is determined, there are myriad add-ons to consider. Trays can be installed to hold LCDs, letting the operator slide them forward and back. LCDs in larger centers often are mounted on a flat-wall structure, so electronic controls can be added to move them back and forth or tilt automatically. Environmental controls are another important add-on.
"They want environmental controls; they want to adjust the air flow and the heat and the lighting — creature comforts," Game said. "These people live here half their lives, so they need to have as much adjustments as possible to make the consoles work for them."
At the end of the day, proper design means designing around operator needs, Game said
"Everything is driven by that," he said.