When we design a communications center or upgrade our current, are we really putting in the time to look at what we can do to give our center the best acoustical advantage or is this more of an afterthought?
A 911 emergency call center is the "center of the universe" when a high profile call comes in. The caller and the dispatcher will be forever linked in their conversation. This conversation might be played over and over for many years to come. Criminal cases can be won or lost based on the clarity of a 911 tape. Family members and friends longing for closure are able to recieve this with a clear 911 recording of a call. The 911 dispatch team can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they did their job to the best of their abilities and it is available for the world to hear with a clear 911 recording.
The acoustics in the 911 center are a critical function of the comm center. Is your comm center so loud that the dispatch team goes home exhausted from a long shift? Can your team hear the callers calling in or is there to much background noise in the comm center? When people call for help they call from all over, bars, playgrounds, highways, concerts, parties and sometimes a quiet room. We can’t control those environments but we can control the environment we are in.
Comm center design can be critical to how we communicate with members of our team. Do you speak directly at each other or do you have a buffer zone? There is a fine line between being too close and being too far away.
The products we use to partition around our consoles are a very critical part of acoustics. Here are a few different options for panel systems and their acoustical arguement:
- Steel slat wall will provide no acoustical value and will actually create an echo back to your headset. Sheet metal construction is really like a drum, everything bounces off of it.
- Fabric covered particle board is basically a hard surface. It is denser than the sheet metal construction but it only reduces about 10% of the noise.
- A hollow panel with fabric covers allows all of the noise through and this creates an entirely different problem of acoustics.
- Laminate construction also bounces noise back at you, but will reduce the noise by about 10% just like the fabric covered panels.
- A NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient) rated panel. This is a system which has been tested by professional labs. What a dispatch center needs is an NRC rating of .50 to .75 which is about 50% to 75% reduction. This can be made of various materials, but to get it to work right it needs some sort of sound dampening inside.
In closing, if you have any questions about your acoustics being your number one priority just watch a Friday night dateline and listen to the 911 tapes. This is where the rubber meets the road so to speak. The icing on the cake when acoustics are your number one priority, is your mission critical team goes home without being exhausted from trying to concentrate for long hours in a noisy environment.