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Grime Prevention: Do Your Comm Center Consoles Need Cleaning?
Author: Mara Stine
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
Walk into any emergency dispatch facility today, no matter where, and look just beneath the surface. There you will find a disgusting mess worthy of a cable television reality show. Greasy grime. Dust bunnies running rampant. Coffee stains. Food particles deep inside cavities seemingly lost forever. Computers and radio equipment covered in filth.
Most emergency response facilities have a janitorial crew to clean around consoles, but rarely does the crew venture in, on or under them. So there’s no deep cleaning of the furniture that call-takers are sitting at 24/7.
That’s where Console Cleaning Specialists, Inc., or C*C*S, comes in.
The Chehalis, Wash.-based company is the only organization in the United States to offer annual and biannual service and maintenance contracts to the 9-1-1 dispatch marketplace — all while 9-1-1 centers continue to operate and save lives.
Founder and CEO Thad Parker launched the company after a decade in the console furniture industry.
“Keeping centers clean and in good repair is a must to the overall health of dispatchers as well as the longevity of 9-1-1 equipment and furniture,” Parker said.
In today’s world, budgets are tight. Keeping 9-1-1 center equipment and furniture operating at its best is a financial imperative — not only to prevent expensive repairs in the future but also to keep staff healthy and on the job today.
“There is a much greater awareness of what a healthy working environment should be,” Parker said. “No one wants to work in a place that negatively affects their overall health.
“Cleanliness in 9-1-1 centers can no longer be ignored.”
Since 2002, Parker has sold, installed and repaired console furniture. But as varied as his customers and their consoles were, one thing remained consistent. “The consoles were dirty, dusty and never got cleaned,” Parker said.
24/7 use equals 24/7 grime
It was no wonder why. Emergency communications is a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week operation. Staffers eat and drink at their desks around the clock. Spills are bound to happen. Food stains consoles and particles get into the tiny grooves of radios and computer equipment.
“It is easy to clean the surface you can see, but getting to the internal areas while trying to man calls is difficult if not impossible,” Parker said.
Remember those spills you thought were cleaned up? That dampness coupled with warmth from 24/7 computer and radio use creates a breeding ground for mold and other allergens.
Those germs spread from staffer to staffer, causing workplace illness and absences. Other team members must fill in — costing big bucks in overtime costs. “It is an unbudgeted reality that can put a dent in the bottom line of every center,” Parker said.
Not only does the warm, moist environment create more allergy issues for dispatchers, it also creates problems with technical equipment.
That dirt can shorten the life of computer systems and radios, with dust being a big offender in the destruction of computers and console furniture.
“Dust is filled with allergens,” Parker said. “The dust mites are multiplying over and over. After all, their food sources are our dead skin cells, as well as their own carcasses and feces. The average sized human sheds approximately 10 ounces of skin cells per year. If you multiple the numbers of consoles manned 24/7 by the people sitting at them, there are pounds of dust accumulating in the centers year over year — just in dead skin cells. Emergency dispatchers are breathing this in all day causing allergies, more illness and difficulty breathing while handing life-threatening calls.”
He routinely discovered computer fans plugged with dust and grime.
Dispatchers would complain, “I sneeze and feel like I can’t breathe whenever I come to work.”
And yet the deep cleaning needed to remove dust, debris, food, candy, dust mites and allergens from the dispatcher’s primary work environment was completely overlooked.
After years of seeing the same cycle of issues, Parker decided it was time to do something about it.
Parker began to offer deep cleaning services as preventative maintenance to his clients. But after only a few jobs, he discovered the real issue: The lack of cleanliness contributed just as much damage to furniture and high-tech gear as their day-to-day use did.
“Dust and dirt gets into the systems, causing overheating and other significant operability problems that cost centers to have them serviced and/or replaced,” Parker said. “Furthermore, many small items of repair are neglected because they are considered too small to call the manufacture but too large for on-site personnel to repair.”
In 2011, demand for his console cleaning services grew so much that Parker spun the deep cleaning into its own company — Console Cleaning Specialists, Inc., or C*C*S.
C*C*S has developed business across the Pacific Northwest has grown so fast that this year the company expanded nationwide, offering its services across the country.
What makes C*C*S different from routine janitorial services — other than the above-mentioned detailed cleaning and maintenance — is the company’s ability clean consoles, computers and radios while 9-1-1 centers stays live. Parker has developed a system in which the dispatch floor remains quiet and as undisturbed as possible while the center’s security remains intact.
Parker said his customers love having properly cleaned consoles, fewer computer and radio maintenance problems and improved employee health — all while avoiding the headache and heartburn of unanticipated budget-busting equipment replacement costs.
But there’s another element that his clients have come to appreciate. It’s the company’s detailed report of its findings, including documentation of any issues found, how those problems were solved or what is needed to fix them, and in some cases — only with client permission — photographs.
And the dirt.
Everything recovered during the deep cleaning process is contained within Ziploc@ baggies and presented to the client.
“People are amazed,” Parker said. “They say, ‘I thought we did a good job keeping the consoles clean, but what you found was disgusting! ‘”
Mara Stine is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon.