Dispatchers at the Payette County Sheriff’s Office have recently settled back into their improved space, after a 14-week remodel. The upgrade added state-of-the-art workstations for the dispatchers, and was done not just to replace aging desks, but also to provide workspaces that help relieve dispatchers of fatigue, as they often work long shifts under sometimes high-stress conditions.
“There are all kinds of health benefits” the new dispatch design provides, Lt. Andy Creech said during a tour of the space Wednesday.
By giving dispatchers the ability to stand, the Sheriff’s Office aims to “limit the negative physical side effects of sitting,” according to a news release on the remodel. The upgraded ergonomics will help to “lessen muscle fatigue, increase productivity and improve the work environment,” reads the release.
“We love them, it’s so nice,” said Linda Hoxie, dispatch supervisor, between calls.
The shared workstations are now customizable for individual comfort. This includes multi-tiered desks, the top tier of which houses six monitors that can be moved up and down, as well as forward and back.
“Before when it would get so busy, it was tense and stressful — my muscles would get so tight, ” she said. “It’s nice to be able to stand and move and get out of the chair.”
Creech said the Sheriff’s Office started looking into replacing the malfunctioning and broken desks dispatchers were utilizing about four years ago. Tours were taken of other dispatch centers to look into options for specialty dispatch desks, Creech said.
“We talked with other supervisors and found that when it’s busy they often found dispatchers were standing,” he said.
This was the case at the Nampa Police Department, Hoxie said.
A quiet transition
The remodel meant dispatch had to be temporarily housed elsewhere — that is in a small two-bedroom trailer, such as those used by contractors. The trailer lacked the rigid securities as the multi-doored, card-access-only way into the regular dispatch center.
For this reason, the Sheriff’s Office opted not to let the public know when the remodel was underway. Special security measures were taken for the temporary location including having all the wiring and cables housed in conduit and adding skirting around the trailer to detract attention.
The move which started July 25 had to be so well-planned that there were zero interruptions to the ability to answer emergency calls and dispatch first responders.
This meant moving all the equipment so all the same resources were available in a way that was still familiar to dispatchers, Creech said, explaining that because dispatchers often “work under pressure” they get used to where everything is so they can quickly access it.
“You did a good job, Andy,” Hoxie said of his efforts for a smooth transition.
Creech sidestepped praise from the dispatchers, saying “I just had the idea” and that it was “the advice of other experts that helped solidify what needed to be done.”
In order to duplicate the center in its temporary housing for the remodel, Creech sat down well ahead of time with a team of people. This included the IT department, Farmers Mutual Telephone Company, Burke Electric and Intermountain Communications.
“We went over the plan and we started talking about limitations and the things we needed to interact … and came up with a detailed plan,” Creech said.
The sheriff’s lieutenant produced a daily schedule which was split out by vendor.
“It made things smooth,” he said, adding that they didn’t run into any issues with vendors not having things ready.
“We stayed on track,” Creech said.
The only delay was in the movable top tier for the monitors, as when it first came in it was fixed, so the desk vendor had to rebuild those portions.
Stations were moved out to the temporary center one at a time until it housed all four stations. The downsized space included filing cabinets, as well as a mini fridge, coffee maker and microwave, Creech said.
“I wanted them to have as many comforts of home as they could,” he said.
One thing the dispatchers really enjoyed in the temporary facility was the ability to look outside.
“They liked the windows,” Creech said, pointing out that the dispatch center’s current location lacks any access to natural light.
“We can’t just get a regular desk that raises,” Hoxie explained. “We can’t risk something getting disconnected mid-call.”
For this reason, several counters that had been used as desks were replaced with Evans Dispatch Consoles.
The improved desks which each house three interconnected computers offer an assortment of ways in which the individuals using them can customize their workspace. This includes the ability to raise and lower the monitors, enabling individuals to sit or stand. The monitors can also be pushed in a group forward or backward. A track-like component houses wires and cables and moves simultaneously with the monitors minimizing risk of disconnection or damage.
Customization of the shared spaces is important, Creech said, as “we have a lot of different types of people who work for us.”
The stations can be further customized for temperature preference, having cooling fans and a radiant heater panel that can be accessed with a the touch of a finger on a digital control panel. Each station has an adjustable overhead task light, as well as electrical and USB hookups that for security reasons don’t connect to the local network, but enable dispatchers to charge their personal devices.
The desks also include “a nice big work surface to spread paperwork out,” Creech said, explaining that the dispatchers needed the large work area for paperwork, such as processing warrants.
After a fresh coat of paint was put on, another upgrade done inside the space was the addition of sound panels on the brick walls “to help reduce echoing,” Creech said. The brick walls match that of the jail, which the dispatch center is housed next to inside the Payette County Courthouse.
A need to expand
The dispatch center was built in 2000 with the intent of housing two dispatchers at a time, but the same room now accommodates three to four dispatchers at any given time. The Sheriff’s Office has 11 full-time dispatchers positions, with 10 of them currently filled.
Down the road, Creech said, there is the potential to outgrow the space that the Sheriff’s Office and Payette County Jail utilize.
The jail has been at almost full capacity for at least the past four years, Creech said, which is about 72 inmates at a time.
This has forced the court to use “pretrial release programs,” which reduces inmate numbers and “provides a way to monitor without keeping them in custody,” he said.
An addition to the jail was built in 2000.
“It’s just time‚ it’s been almost twenty years,” Creech said of the need to eventually expand for more jail space, offices spaces and, of course, a more spacious dispatch center.
“We’ve just outgrown the facility,” he said.
The $105,000 that paid for the dispatch remodel all came from the budget from a combination of 911 surcharges each Payette County resident pays and a lawsuit with a cellphone provider that wasn’t paying the charge and was eventually ordered to pay a lump sum.
The 911 surcharges are “used in numerous ways each year to ensure that dispatchers have the technology available to answer over 11,000 911 phone calls and 61,000 non-911 phone calls every year,” states the news release.
And while there are “all kinds of different funding options for” a new facility, Creech said there haven’t been any discussions yet about expanding.
However, the need is “becoming a reality,” he said.
While the remodeled center will help dispatchers with health issues, Creech said, they are still running into space issues.