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Trends in PSAP Console Furniture

Author: Mark Musick, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Watson Consoles

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content,

Date: 2011-03-27
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Originally published in our April, 2008 issue.


The public safety and emergency communications industry moves at a fast pace.  In an ever-changing environment – from the nature of calls taken, to shifting employee needs, to advances in technology – call center managers, supervisors, and dispatchers need to stay abreast of the latest industry trends.  While new technologies and call center designs are clearly important, it’s also crucial to acknowledge emerging trends in ergonomic console furniture.  Well-designed workstations provide relief from day-to-day stress while increasing job satisfaction, retention, and service delivery. 

Recent installations reveal trends in the selection and specification of emergency communications furnishings.  Ergonomic safety, while not a recent development, continues to be a major driver in purchasing decisions, with esthetics, configurability of workstations, and the ability to remote PCs from a workstation becoming increasingly important considerations.  Environmental stewardship and “green buildings” are also key trends to watch. 


Ergonomics and Esthetics

User comfort and ergonomic safety are primary considerations in dispatch console designs.  Specifically, height and focal depth adjustability, and keyboard tilt capabilities are top requests in RFPs.  Ideally, monitor and keyboard surfaces should feature dual electronic adjustment technology with a monitor surface height adjustment range of 25” and a keyboard surface height range of 35”.  Focal depth adjustment capability (such as a sliding platform designed to hold and adjust multiple monitors simultaneously) is another increasingly specified component of emergency communication consoles.

The Eastside Communication Center in Bellevue (WA) recently underwent a renovation and upgraded to full-lift Synergy consoles by Watson Dispatch [now Watson Consoles, -ed.].  This enabled employees to adjust the consoles to meet their comfort and work style and adhere to ergonomic standards.  “The full-lift capabilities worked out terrific for the needs of our staff, especially for an employee who recently underwent back surgery,” said Communications Manager Alan Komenski.  Suzi O’Byrne, the 9-1-1 communications supervisor, agreed:  “The furniture is not only ergonomically correct, it is user friendly.  Easy, quiet, and adjustable, it is for all of our ages and stages – big, small, short, tall!”

Another substantial industry trend is the realization that esthetics is a key element of ergonomic comfort.  Previous generations of console furniture leaned toward efficiency with little regard to design or visual appeal.  Today, numerous studies show the correlation between employees’ mental and physical well-being and their work environment, including workstations.  This has led manufacturers to work with interior designers to develop color palettes that provide a warm and inviting feel to workstations versus a sterile “techy” environment, while at the same time maintaining high levels of durability and reliability. 



Budget constraints overshadow the need for expansion in a majority of call centers in the United States.   Many centers house fixed consoles that do not allow for easy relocation or reconfiguration within current spaces, and provide no options for future growth.  The emergence of freestanding consoles affords high levels of flexibility and reconfigurability, increasing procurement efficiency, and growth potential.    

For example, Gundersen Lutheran Health Systems in LaCrosse (WI) operated for years in exceedingly tight quarters.  Working with outdated hardware and software, and housing two consoles with only four feet of space between dispatchers, the need for a makeover was clear.  Fortunately, a new dispatch center was being built on the Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center main campus.  And with the move came funding for new console furniture workstations, computers, phone systems, and an upgrade of software.  Having established a relationship with Watson Dispatch, Donn Martin, dispatch supervisor for Gundersen Lutheran Health Systems, found a solution for their technological and ergonomic needs, including provisions for growth.  “I selected a solution that met our ergonomic and growth requirements and was well within our budget,” said Martin.  “Included in the solution were full-lift consoles, depth adjustment platforms, and the Total Comfort System, an innovative environmental and worksurface control device.”  


Full Facility Capabilities

In addition to purchasing freestanding and configurable console dispatch furniture, working with one manufacturer to fulfill all facility furniture needs is an emerging trend with emergency communications purchasers.  This approach improves the esthetic cohesiveness throughout a facility, eliminates the need for recording and maintaining information and warranties for various manufacturers, and eases the coordination of multiple shipments and installations in a new or remodeled center.   

When researching manufacturers for full facility furnishings, look for companies that offer comprehensive lines of private office, conferencing, administrative, and training furniture, as well as accessories such as marker boards, storage, and organizational products, and cable management systems. 

One of the fastest-growing accessory requests is personal pedestals for call center employees.  Many workstations are shared between shift employees, and providing individuals with a storage pedestal to switch out during shifts allows employees to house and secure personal items.  After the employee shift ends, pedestals are “garaged” within the facility for quick accessibility.  A cushion top for pedestals is also an option, thus creating additional seating at consoles for group meetings or sessions.


Remoting of PCs

Another growing trend is the remoting of PCs away for the call taker workstation.  One of the difficulties that IT professionals face is the installation and upgrading of PC hardware and software.  With multiple stations in a call center, the time to upload programs and technologies can be daunting.  The solution is moving the PC from under the console cabinets into an IT server room.  This allows technicians to install and upgrade in one remote location, lessening the disruption time to dispatch staff.  To accommodate this trend, console manufacturers are designing workstations with an option to remove PC cabinets, thus reducing cost and opening up the consoles below. 


Environmental Stewardship

“Going green” is a popular trend in most industries, including 9-1-1 centers; however, few people understand what it means to be “green” or what questions to ask when researching environmentally friendly products.  The first thing to understand is that purchasing sustainable products can help procuring agencies meet their own environmental commitment as well as national standards for sustainable design.  Foremost among these is the U.S.  Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system, which evaluates environmental performance and provides a definitive standard for what constitutes a green building. 

When researching a console manufacturing company’s environmental stewardship, review the recycled and recyclable materials used.  Key indicators to focus on with dispatch console furniture are materials that contain cold-rolled steel of 30–100% recycled content, fabrics composed of recycled polyester, wood fiber substrate materials that are 100% recycled industrial by-products and are 100% recyclable, recycled/recyclable aluminum components, and finishes that are free of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). 

How the manufacturer’s factory builds the products is also important to research when seeking LEED certification credits.  Far too often, the green focus is placed on the products but the procedures are overlooked.  How a product is created is as important to the safety of the environment as the product itself.  Does the manufacturer use water-based adhesives and have no- to low-VOC-emitting sealants, paints, and wood?  How are metal finishes processed?  Look for a company that uses a sugar-based blasting technique for high-pressure metal finishes, which eliminates the discharge of toxic particles and produces an environmentally neutral dust. 

Additional items to consider include how the manufacturer delivers product.  Is it shipped in 100% recycled and recyclable containers and wrapped in either a reusable blanket or honeycomb cardboard instead of foam?  What are the company’s own environmental programs?

As result of researching manufacturers, dispatch centers can purchase products that will help them fulfill many LEED Green Building certification criteria.  For many facilities, these credits could make certification possible or facilitate the difference between basic and higher-level (i.e., platinum) certification. 



Ergonomic safety, esthetics, remoting of PCs, configurability, full facility capabilities, and environmental stewardship are key trends to watch in the 9-1-1 dispatch console furniture industry.  With the wealth of information on the Internet, one of the best ways to research which manufacturer and products would best suit individual needs and requirements is to visit manufacturer Websites.  Also, talking to local representatives and dealers or visiting manufacturer booths at tradeshows are good ways to view products and ask questions.  


Mark Musick, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Watson Consoles, has more than 20 years experience in business development, marketing, product management and technical operations in the public safety and telecommunications industry.  Mr. Musick has specialized in computer telephony integration, call center applications, 9-1-1 public safety and wireless technologies. 





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