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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Livable Centers: Creature Comforts & Beyond

Taken from Public Safety Communications, May 2010
Written by Steven E. Loomis, LEED AP, FAIA and Nathan D. McClure III, MPAM ENP
Mr. Loomis is an assistant vice president and the justice and public safety design director for AECOM. He has more than 20 years of professional architectural practice. Mr. McClure is an associate and public safety consultant at AECOM. He has more than 40 years of public safety communications experience and is a past president of APCO International.

The next-generation PSAP is characterized largely by the attention to livable spaces, beginning with the communications room and carrying through to supporting spaces. From ergonomically designed consoles and chairs to lighting and sound control, facility designs that provide relief from daily stress increase job satisfaction, retention and service delivery.

Let there be light: The main operations room must be efficient and uplifting. Contributing to ultimate livability, large windows can offer natural light and calming views. New glass technologies make natural light possible even in areas with the most severe weather. When possible, windows should take advantage of diffused northern light to avoid glare and uneven heating conditions. If this orientation is not possible, or other views are desired, automatic rolling blinds can be installed.

Another way to get diffused natural light into the operations area is a light shelf that spans between the outside and inside of the exterior glass and effectively bounces sunlight up onto the ceiling. Artificial lights can be switched off when there's enough ambient light entering the space, which supports green, sustainable principles.

This concept works best with higher ceilings. The height should be proportional to the size of the footprint of the roon. For most medium to large centers, this results in a ceiling that's about one-and-a-half stories high. This spacious setting allows for indirect light fixtures to be used much like the light shelf. The fixtures are suspended from the ceiling and direct their light upward, providing a similar diffuse lighting effect. Task lights can be used at each workstation. Our experience suggests that a lower light level is desired in most operations center.

Sound control: Acoustics can be affected by wall placement and other elements, such as floating or irregular ceiling panels. Non-parallel room surfaces can eliminate "flutter" echo and effectively dissipate conversational noise. Acoustic wall panels and carpeted floors contribute to a queit room, and most console furniture have acoustic panels to provide separation between operators.

Non-optional amenities: Break rooms, kitchens, quiet rooms, restrooms, lockers and physical fitness areas are considered standard for next-generation facilities.

Like the operations floor, break rooms should have natural light, and most dispatchers prefer an open, inviting setting where they can get away from the action of the floor. The break room may be completely separate or remote from operations, which may be possible only in larger centers where sufficient relief is available for breaks. Smaller centers generally request that these areas be immediately adjacant to the work space.

Basic break room elements include a kitchen or kitchenette, dining tables, vending machines and casual seating. Often a TV is available, and some centers have fountain drink machines. The kitchen design depends on the number of telecommunicators and departments. Many centers have a full-size range with a hood, but others have only a cook-top or microwave. Sometimes a commercial range hood and chemical fire suppression system are required even for residential appliances. Often, several refrigerators are provided too so each shift or department can have its own. Pantry space should be included.

Additional considerations: Soft seating, computer stations and telephones. Highly livable centers include an adjacent, secure, outside break area, allowing dispatchers an opportunity to catch a breath of fresh air before returning to work. Out of public view, break areas can be outdoor gardens with benches and a covered area for group activities, such as staff picnics. Some centers even include gas barbecues, located on a raised balcony or roof area or enclosed behind a screen wall next to a first floor break room.

Exercise rooms provide employees with a great outlet for stress reduction. The most livable centers plan for a reasonable amount of equipment and size the room accordingly. Showers and changing lockers need to be provided in close proximity to these facilities. These spaces are also critical in times of extended work shifts and uncertain home conditions, which may be the case during large-scale disasters.

Quiet rooms provide the respite required by telecommunicators after a particularly traumatic call or event. Ideally, the quiet room should be located adjacent to the dispatch floor in order to provide easy access to the dispatcher, as well as allow supervisor observation.

Livability issues and support spaces are more than mere functional requirements. Providing needed relief from the daily high stress activity, these livable principles and design concepts promote employee wellness and satisfaction with working conditions - one of the most important factors in employee retention.

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