If you work in a PSAP you know all about the battle of the thermostat. There is a regular struggle between the folks that are too hot and the ones that are too cold. Environmental controls that regulate cool air flow and heat are the best solution for keeping front line emergency dispatchers comfortable and actively focused during shift work. Let's take a quick look at the options available, the applications, and important things to keep in mind about environmental controls when purchasing new consoles.
Filtered Air Fans
So what is a filtered air fan? It's simply a small fan (sometimes two fans) that filters and blows room temperature air at the dispatcher to provide cooling. Just about every dispatch console furniture manufacturer provides this option. It's each manufacturer’s application that sets them apart. Let's look at some important things you should consider when evaluating filtered air options: position of the vents, type of filter, and maintenance accessibility.
Location, Location, Location
An important feature when examining the environmental controls on a dispatch console is the location of the filtered air vents. There are three typical locations for filtered air: movable fans, in-worksurface vents, and mounted vents. Each type has pros and cons. The right choice for your team will likely be based on your workflow and worksurface space needs.
Moveable fans provide the most flexibility and allow each dispatcher to place the fans on the surface where they will be most effective. The downside is that the dispatcher will have two more pieces of equipment on an already busy worksurface and the units are larger than the in-worksurface counter parts.
Both in-worksurface and mounted units are installed with upper access vents. The airflow tube(s) and filter are located within the console body.
In-worksurface vents come in two primary styles: permanent diffusers and flush-mount surface vents.
Permanent diffusers are mounted directly into the worksurface in front of the dispatcher. These are affixed to the desktop and won’t get knocked over during shift work. However, at several-inches-high, these appliances can become a working barrier and may block the view of monitors.
Flush mount vents are also permanently mounted directly into the worksurface in front of the dispatcher. These protrude less than the diffuser. Dispatchers will need to be careful that these vents do not get covered with papers and binders – a challenge during high-intensity work times.
Mounted air-flow options include dashboard placement and wall mounted vents.
Dashboard vents are seated in this small elevated surface behind the primary worksurface. The vents are within reach of the dispatcher for easy adjustment. This application positions the vents above the desktop delivering air to the upper body and face while keeping the desktop clear.
Wall mounted vents are placed within the slat-wall. This keeps the worksurface clear. Unfortunately, the vents are set farther back than surface units and some dispatchers experience a noticeable decrease in the airflow intensity and subsequent cooling.
To HEPA or not to HEPA?
Consider the type of filter the fan will use. While both types meet basic standard for particulate control and healthy air standards, HEPA filters offer finer particulate screening and must be fully replaced frequently while others use washable / reusable filters.
According to US government standards, HEPA air filters remove 99.97% of .3 size particles that pass through the filter. This includes sub-micron particles such as allergens. HEPA filters cannot be cleaned or reused and must be replaced regularly to remain effective. This upkeep can be costly.
The most common HEPA alternative is the particulate filter which offers micro-filtration of household dust & lint, dust mites, pollen and pet dander. These types of filters are often washable and reusable providing cost savings over time.
Filtered air fans are only effective if the filters are replaced or cleaned often. A dirty filter not only reduces airflow, it can make air quality worse. Easy access to the filters for regular maintenance is an important feature to consider.
Forced Heated Air
Heating for users at the console has traditionally been provided with radiant heat devices. These come in many forms such as the heated foot rest, heat panels and heated floor mats. Unfortunately, radiant heat is not the most effective way to provide heat to the user. In recent years, most console manufacturers have added forced heated air units to their consoles. What is forced heated air? Simply put, it's a heating element with a fan. Seems pretty simple and there are some important things you should consider when evaluating forced heated air: placement of the vents, where the heating unit is located, and how much power the units draw.
Blowing Hot Air
Where is the vent for the forced heated air on the console? On many console models you will find the vents down by the feet and ankles. This is a very inefficient way to provide heated air to the user; it sends most of the hot air into the room.
Ideally, vents should be placed under the surface in a position that helps to heat the most physical real estate – the lap and core.
It's important to know where the forced heat main unit is installed within the dispatch console. You want to be sure this heat generating feature is not installed in the same area that you store your computers and other technology. Increased temperature from a heating unit may put technology at risk for over-heating and failure.
Who’s Got the Power?
How much power will your forced heated air unit draw? This is very important to know early on in your console selection process. Most manufacturers have forced heat units that draw between 1000-1200 watts of power. When you multiply that by the number of consoles in your dispatch center you may find that your electrician recommends a separate electrical circuit in the room just to accommodate the heaters. This is a hidden cost for which you might not have planned. To reduce the risk of needing a dedicated circuit, look for forced air heaters designed for energy efficiency. Some manufacturers offer heaters that draw as low as 400 watts. Also, for safety, be sure the heaters are UL certified; better yet, seek a console that is UL 962 system certified.
Invest in your Team
When dispatchers have individualized control over the temperature of their work zone, they are more likely to stay actively engaged in the work at hand. And engagment is a crucial part of employee satisfaction. Being too hot or too cold can become a daily distraction and lends to long-term dissatisfaction. When choosing your next PSAP furniture console, be sure to closely examine the cooling and heating options, paying special attention to placement and maintenance access. A well-designed environmental controls system is a smart investment for active dispatch environments.
For additional information on console attributes you should consider Before You Buy, check out:
- Promoting User Focus
- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Treadmills at Your Desk
- Dispatch Console Resources
About the Author
Eddie Creegan's expertise in facility needs and dispatch furniture solutions helps him engage communications centers to understand challenges and to develop lasting solutions. Eddie started his career in 1986 installing commercial office furniture and public safety consoles. He received installation certification for multiple product lines and started his own installation company in Phoenix, Arizona. In 2005, Eddie moved from installation to sales as an independent rep for Watson Dispatch and began working directly for Watson Dispatch in 2013. Eddie predominately works with customers in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.
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