Technology has done wonders for the PSAP industry, allowing safety centers to respond quicker, more proactively, and more accurately. It’s improved everything from phone calls to radio communication, and made emergency vehicles trackable via GPS. And without exception, these new technologies require a data cable and a connection to the Internet. As the number of technologies helping to facilitate exceptional public safety has grown, the number of data cables and connection points has grown with it. Unless PSAP centers give serious thought to the problems associated with increased cabling volume, this complexity will only get worse in the years to come.
Simplicity Equals Productivity
Many product designers find that simple, functional elements lend to increased productivity and satisfaction. At Watson, we have found that to be true in many areas. With regard to technology integration and data management, we see a number of advantages to reducing the number of cables and improving cable management.
1. Fewer cables reduces downtime
Fewer cables being run to the console means fewer cables that can fail. So when problems do occur, PSAP centers can spend less time and money troubleshooting, and more time serving the public. This is made possible with single point power-to-building connections, patch panels and network switches - all housed within the workstation console.
- Before You Buy: In addition to choosing consoles with patch panel and network switch options, look for consoles that have outboard access to technology. Outboard access keeps the Dispatcher dispatching while the IT team checks glitches.
2. Less clutter improves the working environment
Reducing the number of cables with smart cable management is simply better for team wellness. People who work at a cleaner workspace, according to a Harvard study and research done at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, have better focus and experience less stress - two must have traits for high-functioning PSAP personnel.
- Before You Buy: Look for consoles that provide options for cable reduction within the workstation. Fewer cables and connections mean fewer nooks and crannies in which dust and debris might hide. Regular cleaning and maintenance will remove allergens and illness-causing germs which helps keep team members healthy, comfortable and on duty.
3. Good cable management improves hardware performance
When you’re dealing with as many data cables as there are in today’s PSAP centers (twelve to sixteen data cables is not uncommon) electrical interference must be taken into consideration. Running power cables near data, audio, or video cables can cause static in monitors and buzzing in headphones. In contrast, when proper cable management is built-in to the console, hardware can work optimally. There are many ways to manage cables and data storage solutions, so PSAP IT teams need to be aware of their center’s requirements and the many options available.
- Before You Buy: When considering your cable management and data distribution solutions, look for furniture that provides separate channels for laying in power and data. This best practice reduces the threat of audio interference that can delay assistance to those who urgently need it.
Key Trends in Data Management: Rack-mounted Components
Rack-mounted components once were found only in server rooms. Today there are rack-mounted PCs, power centers, battery backups, and more and they are stored within the console. The compact footprint and universal size of rack-mounts make them a great choice for consoles designed to hold them. An example of forward-thinking, compact data management is a design built to house rack-mounts. More conventional lines might also be retrofitted. Ask your console workstation provider to review their rack-mount options. You might find if you don't need rack-mounts now, you'll need them later.
Rack-mounted switches allow a PSAP to run the minimum number of data cables (one, in the best-case scenario) from the server closet to the console. The switch can then run data cables directly to the monitors and components that require data.
Rack-mounted patch panels
A patch panel, which is standard on some consoles, is a convenient junction where data, sound, and video cables can be easily connected and accessed. This again reduces or eliminates the need to run cabling throughout the console.
KVM (Keyboard Video Mice)
A KVM board is a technology that is gaining popularity and is installed on many consoles. The KVM reduces the number of mice and keyboards required by the dispatch operator. Instead of dedicating one mouse and keyboard to each CPU/monitor, an operator uses a single mouse and keyboard to jump from monitor to monitor. You will find options for KVM hardware and KVM software. If choosing a software option, you'll also need a network switch to channel the signal from the primary CPU to secondary units. Ask your console providers for a recommended KVM integration plan.
Future Proofing Data Management
How do you future-proof data management? That’s a question we have thought a lot about. We have learned that few PSAPs are exactly alike and seek solutions that suit existing systems and future plans. This is essential when the console workstations are in use for a decade or more, and technology changes every 2-5 years.
Our approach has led to three primary solutions: a fully integrated solution, a retrofit-capable solution, and completely custom. These are three examples of several options you'll find in the dispatcher/operations console marketplace.
The in-line console—a fully integrated solution
If you are looking for an advanced solution for data management, the Mercury console is it.
The Mercury console has separate channels to run power and data cables. Separating them ensures optimal hardware performance by minimizing electromagnetic interference. These channels run both horizontally and vertically for easy access by IT. The cable bridge has capacity for nine 1" flexible conduit, or 40+ Cat-6 cables.
CPUs - Rack-mounted, conventional towers, or both
The technology cabinets on Mercury are designed to accept either rack-mounted CPUs or, small- or large-format CPUs. In fact, a single technology cabinet can accommodate both a rack-mounted system and two large-format towers.
The obvious advantage to this is that a PSAP can update technology in stages by first moving some components into a rack system and continuing to use conventional PCs for other applications.
Stackable, expandable hubs
When new technology is added and more data processing space or storage is needed, a second technology center can be stacked on the first. A small technology cabinet can also be easily swapped for an upgrade with more capacity. The ability to change only what you need while retaining the core console is a benefit for centers who expect to expand support tools and technology.
Designed for easy IT access
Both the Hub, where the rack-mounted power and patch panels are located, and the Technology Cabinet have outboard placement. That means the panels can be accessed by IT from the outside of the console rather than from the middle. This design allows someone working at the console to continue taking calls while troubleshooting operations are performed.
Compact footprint, clear sight lines
All this technology still fits in the same footprint because Watson’s engineers have found ways to fit racks in previously unused voids. Other console manufacturers are also offering rack-mounted data management systems, but many of them are tacking them onto the top of their consoles or in tall towers to the side of the user. One drawback to the tower solution is that it disrupts sight lines. The ability to flag down a colleague for assistance without leaving the workstation is something you might not miss, or even think about, until it’s gone. With the Mercury console, sight lines can be left uninterrupted.
The 90 degree console—an integrated or retrofit solution
Some telecommunicators prefer the conventional 90 degree workstation design. Because Watson has always designed with the future in mind, the Synergy console, like Mercury, can employ both rack-mounted and traditional solutions. A cavity rack-mounted solution can be specified at time of purchase or retrofitted to an existing console.
These retrofitted systems have the same advantages of the Mercury console, with rack-mounted power and a rack-mounted patch panel to simplify data management.
Cable clips and vertical wire managers are included throughout the Synergy console to reduce clutter and isolate data from power.
The custom approach
Some PSAPs know that they want, or need, a specialized solution for data management. In these cases, Watson will work with center teams to customize workstation consoles, or modify existing workstation consoles to accommodate technology or staffing changes.
Build for Today, Plan for the Future
Obviously, cable management and data management are two of the key considerations when purchasing or retrofitting a dispatch console. By planning ahead, you can create a system that allows for easy troubleshooting of problems, reduced downtime, and better performance.
Our advice? Understand your technology needs today, and purchase a system that gives you the flexibility to add capacity tomorrow.
Planning for future technological innovations simply makes sense. The future will undoubtedly bring a need for more cables, more storage, more processing power, more monitors, more radios, more everything. Prepare for it now, and you’ll be able to respond to the next technology revolution.
Your Data Management Console Checklist
Before reaching out to console providers, have your team consider these questions:
How many data connections does each user require?
Will you be utilizing KVM software or hardware?
Do you have, or plan to have, rack-mounted components at each position?
Do you have small- or large-format CPUs?
How many monitor connections does each position require?
Does your Center expect to upgrade technology systems as part of this active project?
Do you expect to install new technology in 3 years? 5?
Is consolidation in your future?
Once you know what you need, your console manufacturer should work closely with you to develop lasting solutions for your technology and data management needs.
Read more from Watson and The Healthy Dispatcher:
- Creating a problem solving culture at your agency
- Positive, not Pollyanna: 5 keys for hapiness in your PSAP career