Designing & Operating Your Dispatch Center

Just as fire stations have evolved from simple sheds into the multi-bay structures of today, the new generation of emergency communications centers has little likeness to those past. Underground bunkers that were products of the Cold War era have...


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Another part of the transformation of PSAPs from the 20th century to the 21st is the focus on LEED (Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design) standards. In this case, moving from the “dark ages” is certainly a true statement, with the use of outside light and the provision of views being two of many categories in which certification points can be earned. Focus is also placed on livable, energy-efficient buildings. Concern for interior air quality, the use of renewable or recycled goods during construction and the overall reduction in the use of utilities are among the many variables rated.

Building design takes into account not only the function of the structure, but the comfort of the occupants as well. Large kitchens and break areas that take into account the 24-hour nature of the operation and need to support protracted operations are becoming common. Some newer additions include “quiet rooms” where dispatchers can read or relax during breaks. For the more active, exercise rooms are also a welcome addition, where stress and calories can both be burned off after a hectic shift.

There are also a number of pleasing interior finishes that may be used to further increase worker satisfaction. Far from the institutional mint-and-bottle-green walls of many an older public building, renewable and recycled surfaces in many colors and finishes now appear. Acoustic wall panels and flooring that looks like wood, LED lighting and high ceilings provide a functional, yet appealing design. Alternative energy systems such as geo-thermal and solar have also found a niche, as have low- and no-flow plumbing fixtures.

But the main purpose of the PSAP is far from being forgotten. According to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1221, Standard for the Installation, Maintenance and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems, 2013 edition, “The communications center and other buildings that house essential operating equipment shall be protected against damage from vandalism, terrorism and civil disturbances.”

Whereas security used to be provided by digging deep into the ground, it is now a product of the engineered use of construction materials, bullet-resistant glazing, offset distances from potential hazards and electronic monitoring and control systems. Even facilities in areas prone to severe weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes are now routinely built above ground. This also applies to emergency operations centers (EOCs) that are often part of the package, as are traffic management centers (TMCs).

According to Kevin Ratigan, senior vice president of Architects Design Group in Winter Park, FL, “We have worked on several facilities located in large, urban metro areas. Traffic management centers are a national trend in these areas. The TMC shares a similar infrastructure backbone of fiber optic connectivity and visual display technology as the communications center. Although the TMC is not located in the same floor area as communications owing to law enforcement accreditation and often state statute for privacy of information, the visual displays will be integrated as a ‘backup’ to the TMC for monitoring by the communications center personnel. Often, the TMC will be located next to the communications center to cost effectively share the technology backbone.”

One challenge of modern-day security is to provide maximum protection with minimum visibility. Building exteriors no longer look like fortresses, but most often resemble ordinary offices or light industrial concerns. Perimeters can be controlled with landscaping, bollards (thick posts that prevent vehicles from entering an area) and the creative use of steps, planters and benches. Once inside, visitors are greeted with open, yet isolated spaces that route pedestrian traffic away from critical areas. Keypads, badge readers and biometric sensors provide an additional level of safety. Glazing and walls, where required, are bullet resistant.

 

Guarding against hazards

Another sign of the times is protection against chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear (CBRN) hazards. This in part encompasses the location of fresh-air intakes, the ability to quickly cut off the fresh air supply, HEPA and charcoal filtration, positive pressurization and air quality monitoring. While many find the total range of these measures cost-prohibitive, NFPA 1221 considers the first two as basic requirements.