911 Dispatchers know a lot about being efficient. They have to be ready to react quickly when the important call comes in amidst all of the barking dog and drunk neighbor complaints. Taking time to reach around looking for the right mouse or the right keyboard can slow them down when trying to get the job done.
So, how do dispatchers set up their consoles to make sure they have everything they need within reach? Well, that is hard to say since each dispatcher has their own way of doing it, and like anywhere, the dispatch world is made up of both lefties and righties whose unique needs vary.
Speaking of righties and lefties, here’s a quick true story: Our production floor manager, Troy, has actually switched from being right-handed to being left-handed. Unlike Caitlyn Jenner, the switch happened naturally. When we were kids in Colorado, we were sledding on a glorious day off from school, and our sled run kept getting longer and faster. Troy was the first one to hit a tree head-on, and as a result, he transitioned from being right to left-handed. Pretty interesting, huh?
Getting back to our main point, all dispatchers tend to set up their consoles a little differently, and while I’m sure as heck not going to tell you how to set yours up, I will talk about what ergonomists call the primary reach zone. The primary reach zone is basically where you let your arms hang down by your side while just bending them at the elbow, putting them out at a 90-degree angle. You can move them side-to-side in a semi-circular motion; humans are round, not square, so we like to move in smooth arcs instead of short, square movements.
Anything that you put into that area is in your primary reach zone. If you have to move your arms out starting at the shoulder, you are going into the secondary reach zone. You want to avoid repetitive daily motions into this secondary reach zone because this is where we introduce new muscles and start pushing what the body can do. Oftentimes, this is the start of musculoskeletal issues that leave you a little sore, and that soreness can gradually build into issues that will affect you later in life.
That being said, you want to put all of your primary equipment into your primary reach zone. This includes:
- your CAD keyboard
- your CAD mouse
- your radio
- Anything that you use multiple times within an hour
Items that can go into your secondary reach zone include:
- your mapping mouse
- your radio keyboard
- Anything that you only use occasionally throughout the day
I think one of the devices that puts the most strain on the ergonomics and health of the dispatcher is a touchscreen monitor. They are usually too bulky to be put into the primary reach zone. If you have to touch them to transmit or for some other often-used function, they are too far out and stretch into the secondary zone. They also do not provide much tactile feedback, which would drive me crazy. (I write these blogs on my computer with a keyboard instead of my iPad for a reason.)
Moving on, what about additional items like romance novels, cell phones, or tablets? They can be stored in various places, but it is convenient to have somewhere that you can stash them away quickly. A shelf that is right in the secondary reach zone is great, as it hides some of the equipment and is easy to get to. Some consoles come with a charger for those electronic devices now too, meaning you can play Candy Crush all day long!
Modern consoles should also have a place to quickly connect and disconnect your keyboards and mice; this will allow you to easily move those parts around or place them out of the way.
To sum it up, always spend a little bit of time thinking about your primary reach zone and what needs to be in it, and be sure to try out new arrangements to get your console set up in a way that works best for you. Hopefully someone will invent a mouse that sends out a high-pitched alarm that only dogs can hear to stop them from barking, and if/when this is created, you can bet that the mouse that turns on that alarm will definitely be placed in the primary reach zone.