For 15 years, the landscape of the modern-era PSAP remained virtually unchanged with operators sitting in pods at 90 degree corner workstations. When the 90 degree style made its debut, it was revolutionary and capably accommodated critical technology. Today, changes in technology, ergonomics and use-of-space have rendered the style outmoded. Learn why.
PSAPs have come a long way
Advances in technology have made 911 call response more efficient. Professional associations ensure centers keep pace with regulations and best practices. No matter where technology or regulations take emergency telecommunications, however, operators sitting behind a 911 console workstation will remain the cornerstone of providing mission critical assistance.
Consider the impact workstations have on operator comfort and focus, and the longevity of the technology housed within the console's compartments. As technology leaps, and PSAPs are called to do more with less, it is more relevant than ever to consider the functional design of the modern 911 dispatch desk.
A quick tour through the evolution of console design informs why so many PSAPs are still putting operators at outmoded corner workstations.
What's the alternative? Is it time to explore something new? We think so.
A brief history
Early centers are swamped by bulky, built-in equipment. Technology eclipses operator focus and comfort. The industry has not yet felt the surge of constituent growth, nor the subsequent need for dedicated 911 centers staffed to field a high volume of calls, 24/7. Built-in equipment remains the workhorse of public safety communications well into the late 1970s. It will take several decades for technology to change, and even longer before workstation design evolves.
By 1998, and as the shift to freestanding equipment becomes the norm, the modern 911 dispatcher desk comes to market (via MowCo, and later acquired by Watson). PSAPs are moving away from the built-in console equipment to independently movable CPUs. This leads to the design of 90-degree corner console desks and the advent of pod planning. The desk shape suits the new, boxy hardware that requires deep triangular work surfaces.
This desk innovation opens the door to consider other console desk functions including the physical needs of the operator. PSAPs enthusiastically adopt the new specialty desks which provide a space-planning advantage and meet emerging ergonomic recommendations for healthful posture.
PSAPs are implementing the change to flat-screen monitors - mounted on stands or connected to a free-moving monitor array. Ancillary technology continues to evolve. PSAPs remain dependent on redundant technologies including radio, back up telephones, maps and manuals housed at the operator's station.
Personal devices rise is popularity. Within the largest centers, operator's request lockable personal storage. The battle of the thermostat and light switch continues and PSAPs consider individual comfort controls a meaningful solution.
Ergonomic standards continue to evolve and rise is importance as means to mitigate workplace injury and associated call-outs. As technology changes, the furniture does not. Secondary platforms and corner space behind monitors create dead zones and become a repository for dust and redundant cabling.
Why fix dispatch console furniture if it isn't broken?
The bottom line is that change can be hard. For dispatchers, sitting at the same type of console they have for years is comforting. For manufacturers, it is more cost effective to keep making desks to which dispatchers are accustomed; there is a significant cost associated with research and development.
The case for 911 desk change
By the early 2000s, PSAPs have mostly moved to compact desktop technology. Agencies also feel increased budget pressure to do more with less. This includes providing more ergonomic and comfort features and accommodating growing teams in existing "full" spaces.
The design team at Watson perceives an opportunity to advance the design of the modern 911 dispatch desk. Watson, long since driven by a quest to provide functional, durable, and beautiful dispatch consoles, observes that conventional console desk attributes no longer provide the most efficient, effective solution for dispatch teams.
The Watson Consoles design team begins to more closely observe the requirements and behaviors of active 911 operators and their IT support teams. They audit nearly 6,000 floor plans, from centers around the world, and discover common barriers to efficient planning and workflow:
- Workstation sizes and amenities are not the same for all operators.
- Positions are overburdened with equipment, crowding operators.
- Poor supervisor sight lines.
- Poor operator-to-operator sight lines.
- Inefficient use of square footage.
- Technology access is obscured when positioned along the wall; common with pod planning.
- Technology storage is one-size-fits-all.
Inspired by their desire to make the very best dispatch consoles in the world, guided by the philosophy of Dieter Rams, and saddled with five years of research from ergonomists, IT pros, operations managers, and dispatchers, the team conceives a new design.
Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design.
- Dieter Rams
Time for a new take on the 911 console desk
Watson Consoles debuts Mercury at APCO 2012 in Minneapolis where it is well-received by dispatchers, IT technicians and facility managers. Mercury reclaims unused surface area. The new design and improved technology integration raises the bar for console performance. Everything the dispatcher needs to remain productive & comfortable is within arm’s reach.
Resistance to Change
As the Watson team begins to introduce the new console to PSAPs nationwide they are met with resistance. Dispatchers share, "It looks way too different. I don't think I can work like that." It isn't until Watson launches the Mobile Showroom and gets a demo in front of dispatcher teams that the tide changes.
It's amazing to watch the change on the dispatchers faces. They come into the showroom already having decided they are not going to like Mercury. Once they sit down, they are hooked. It's really cool to see it over and over.
The Watson team begins to receive positive feedback about Mercury and the benefits of the unique design.
Many dispatchers are used to the pod style of working and are surprised how quickly they can adapt, and thrive, at a linear workstation.
It’s quieter than the pod [90 degree corner] design and the dispatchers like it.
We were able to increase the number of workstations to 22 and we still have room to add more.
The dispatch consoles are as sturdy and we thought they would be. Beside that, they are beautiful and functional!
Side-by-side training is far more comfortable for both operator and trainer.
WSDOT keeps sight lines open between teammates.
Mercury's unique planning logic allows every dispatcher full view of the video monitor wall while providing comfortable visual and acoustic privacy between consoles.
This furniture brought us into the 21st century!
Dispatchers like that the work station is spacious.
Raising the surface is now fast and quiet.
What sets Mercury apart from the look-alikes?
911 dispatch operator focus
The personalized work area accommodates the precise ergonomic and comfort profile of each user. The surface is available with a rectangle or contoured profile.
The primary work zone has an additional 915 square inches of usable work space compared to an equivalent sized corner desk.
A full suite of lighting and comfort controls help operators remain comfortable and focused. One touch controls and a unique focal-depth system challenge the old way of doing things, making adjustments smoother than ever before. And all comfort controls are positioned within easy reach of the operator.
Mercury helps counter the physical demands of grueling shifts by providing a broad range of sit-to-stand positions. Mercury’s range of motion meets comfort and ergonomic standards, promoting focus for mission critical and 24/7 shift work. Fast, easy and quiet adjustment of the surface and monitors allow operators to customize shared stations without disrupting the team.
PSAP teams know that no matter where technology takes you, Mercury has you covered. Do not be fooled by console workstations that look similar; Mercury has unique tech integration capabilities that extend the life of your cables, reduce power/video signal interference and reduce downtime associated with regular IT checks. Click to learn how Mercury will ease technology integration and maintenance.
space-planning for mission critical teams
In stark contrast to the pod plan (shown above), Mercury makes better use of space, allowing many centers to add positions to a space they considered once at capacity.
- Better traffic flow.
- Roomier work zones.
- Equal-sized work stations and amenities including operator controlled lighting, heat and air.
- Operators have room to secure personal belongings.
- Additional technology or personal storage can be accomplished by stacking vertically, not creeping into the space.
- Open supervisor and team sight lines.
- Users have a dedicated and roomy cockpit.
- Expanded work space provides space for multiple inputs, radios, and other support tools WITHOUT crowding the operator.
Why choose a Watson Consoles?
We design dispatch console furniture for the people that use it
The Watson team collaborated with front-line operators, IT pros, and facility managers to experience first‑hand what each user-group sees, hears and feels during an average shift. Our console workstations are built for the demands of the 24/7 communication center.
materials in the right APPLICATION = 911 furniture that lasts 20+ years
Watson demonstrates superior expertise in both wood and steel manufacturing. Our unique materials approach results in exceptionally durable technology furniture. We believe so strongly in this that we can offer peace of mind and lasting value with the industry’s strongest warranty, Lifetime + 10.
Click to learn more about our approach to using both steel and wood to create long-lasting 24/7 workstations that are functional and beautiful.
3rd party CERTIFICATIONS for durability, safety, ergonomics, environment
Watson Consoles is committed to providing solutions that are safe, functional and promote a focused and healthful workplace. We are guided by rigorous standards and audited by third-party experts.
Mercury is the only console on the market to achieve a UL 962 listing as a complete assembly. This premier standard verifies that Mercury meets multiple safety requirements for stability and mechanical strength; fire resistance; and power, lighting and electrical safety.
And, all Watson consoles are made right here, in Poulsbo, WA, which provides us the highest level of quality control. Learn more about the advantages, to us and to you, when manufacturing and sourcing materials domestically.
Watson Consoles understands the way you operate, and we design furniture to make your workday better.
With Watson on your side, you’ll never have to worry about your workstations. Contact us for more information.