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Creature Comforts: Modern Trends in 9-1-1 Center Design

Author: Barry Furey

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2015-09-28
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Photos courtesy of Winbourne Consulting, LLC

Dispatch floor of the San Antonio (TX) Emergency Communications Center offers roomy design with lots of natual lighting

The design and construction of a public safety communications center is a complex process that requires several years to complete. Careful consideration must be given to items such as security, backup, and sufficient electrical power. Redundant routes for circuits have to be planned and provided, and a tower may have to be constructed. Even small details such as the heat load produced by equipment needs to be factored in to determine adequate cooling.  Documents, such as the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) 1221: Standard for the Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems should be consulted to assure that best practices are met. Still, with the understandable attention to technical detail that goes into projects of this nature, focus has increasingly turned to making Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) more livable.

Obviously, the movement away from subterranean facilities is a giant step in this direction. The protection formerly provided from explosions and severe weather by layers of dirt is now afforded through calculated standoff distances and structural reinforcement. A number of recently constructed and under-construction communications centers have aimed for LEED  (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by creating so-called “green” buildings. A significant part of their energy efficiency comes from the use of natural sunlight to illuminate the interior. This is obviously difficult to do unless you are above ground, and have skylights and/or windows.

Another benefit provided by LEED facilities is clean interior air. Part of this comes from proper circulation and filtration, but a major factor involved is the use of interior finishes that do not release pollutants into the environment. Carpets, adhesives, paints, and a variety of other materials are selected based upon their lack of off-gassing. For many of us who spent our lifetimes in dusty rooms and dark and dingy cellars, the addition of light and fresh air certainly qualify as major improvements.

The kitchen at the Hennepin County (MN) Communications Center included multiple fridges and cabinets for different shifts. There is a similar sized area adjacent to the kitchen with tables and vending machines. 

But there are other specific areas that draw the designer’s attention in modern day facilities. One of these is the kitchen and dining area. In the past, some were little more than an apartment sized refrigerator and microwave oven accompanied by a table and a few castoff chairs. Now focus is placed on the true 24/7 nature of operations, and the need to provide entire crews with foodstuffs for protracted periods of time. Commercial appliances, including refrigerators, sub-zero freezers, dishwashers, and multi-burner dual oven stoves can be seen in many specifications. Space for vending machines is also routinely factored in. And where an Emergency Operations Center is co-located, there may even be a larger, separate kitchen that can serve the expanded EOC staff during activations.

The kitchen/break room for the San Antonio PSAP. The facility houses both police and fire; each have an identical kitchen/break room; the photo shows the police area. Note the outdoor barbeque areas adjacent to the kitchens with direct access.

The dining and break areas are now becoming fully functional, with an eye to providing telecommunicators with a true relief from duty. Some have flat screen televisions, as well as internet and phone access that enables outside social contact. Many are designed to have a scenic view, where possible. Some even have an outdoor component to allow for open air dining.  Another component gaining in popularity is the “quiet room;” a space designed to allow employees to relax and unwind. Depending upon preference, these may or may not contain entertainment devices, as some are designed as truly silent spaces. No matter what the final choice on contents, quiet rooms recognize the need for personal space when not sitting at a console.

Left: Exercise room at the Fairfax (VA) Emergency Communications Center.

Recognition, too, is now being given to the stressors related to the job. While break areas address this to a degree, the provision of exercise rooms is another current trend. While not typically designed to rival Gold’s Gym, many nonetheless have adequate space and equipment for engaging in a good workout. Among the items frequently specified are free weights, universal gyms, recumbent bicycles, stair climbers, and treadmills.  Showers and water fountains are often located nearby.  As if this weren’t enough, some agencies have experimented with the replacement of chairs with treadmills on the dispatch floor. Employees can then walk at a leisurely pace while handling calls, and hopefully improving their health.

Locker installations take into account the amount and type of personal equipment typically utilized by telecommunicators, and console manufacturers now include several options for the storage of goods such as purses and backpacks at each operating position. Holders for facial tissue, hand-cleaner, and console wipes can now be mounted within reach. Even the video walls used to carry critical data to the com center floor can become a benefit when used to selectively import and display local news and programming.

Maricopa (AZ) Dispatch Center floor.  Modern designs taking ergonomics and healty environment into consideration takes 9-1-1 opts out of the basement and into airy facilities such as this - large centers such as Maricopa as well as smaller PSAPs.

It is doubtful that PSAPS will ever reach the level of opulence of some private sector headquarters that feature bowling alleys, pool tables, swimming pools, and gourmet kitchens. However, they are increasingly becoming more livable, which is encouraging news for those who spend a good deal of their lives at work. While planning time must be dedicated to assuring that backup electric power and other technical requirements are met, it is the 9-1-1 personnel who will ultimately make or break any emergency. Providing them with a livable workspace can only help to reduce stress and turnover while allowing them to place full concentration on the task at hand.  For this reason, providing “creature comforts” in new building design may provide one of the highest returns on investment that any agency can receive.


With more than 45 years’ experience in public safety, including managing large consolidated dispatch centers in three states, Barry Furey now serves as a trainer and consultant for the 9-1-1 and public safety communications community.  See



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