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A 3-Stage Approach to Annual Communication Assessments

Estimated reading time: 17 minute(s)

We should all know the value of annual health check-ups, vehicle tune-ups, and performance reviews, right?

Yes, they’re a pain, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, but they’re essential, nonetheless.

Why? Because they help us stay healthy, safe, and productive. Taking some relatively simple preventative measures can pay big dividends in the long run, as opposed to waiting for something to go wrong before you get a check-up. Whoever coined the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” probably lived in a time when the average life expectancy was 40, and they certainly didn’t work in mission-critical communications.

So think about this. When was the last time your emergency communication center had its annual checkup?

If it’s been less than a year, you’re likely golden. But if not, it’s probably time to get on it.

Why? Because people rely on the equipment and services in your dispatch center to keep them healthy, safe, and productive.

See where we’re going with this?

Now we know what you’re thinking. Who has the time or budget for that?

And we get that.

But don’t worry, the process doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In fact, you can break a general communications assessment down into three separate stages or about four to five inexpensive services.

Stage 1: The Preventative Maintenance Check

If you dispatch for multiple departments, start with control station radios. Think about the last time the equipment underwent stress testing and make sure you check every component. Since these systems operate on dependencies, even the slightest issue could point to a severe problem down the road.

Next is sound and clarity. Consider the signal strength. Are the radios meeting the antenna output specs? If they aren’t, find out why.

Likewise, is the reception as sensitive as it should be? Missed transmissions are a problem no one wants during a critical incident and are especially crucial during the winter months when there’s more severe weather.

One last question. Are all of the subscribers transmitting on frequency?

While it’s easy for someone to switch channels accidentally, some radios can experience signal drift all on their own. If this happens in the field, it may be harder to trace the source of the problem. With that in mind, checking each subscriber annually can help catch the issue before it becomes a hazard.

Moving onto batteries and power supplies, how long has it been since you’ve checked the status of your UPS? It’s essential to load-test the system ensure everything is functioning as it should. Also, remember to have your technician confirm the connection cables are not loose or damaged.

Along the same lines, your backup batteries should never be more than two to three years old. Consider replacing them if they are because no one wants to discover the batteries won’t charge at 1 am on a holiday weekend or when call volumes are higher than usual.

Stage 2: The Technology Review

Look around at the communications equipment in your dispatch center and think about the age of your system. Where is the console in its lifecycle? Will the manufacturer cover the costs if something breaks?

Even more important, if the system breaks are replacement parts even still available?

If you have doubts, it’s always best to check your sales and service agreements. Remember, it’s better to research a replacement or upgraded system while yours is still fully operable. Doing so allows you to keep your options open, consider funding sources, solicit feedback from your staff, and, most importantly, avoid downtime.

While we’re on the subject of upgrades, does your current setup fit your needs? Are there enough workstations, monitors, and speakers? Besides the typical hardware or accessories, consider add-on applications, such as integrated CAD or RMS. Would these additions make your communications center more efficient or effective?

Now might be the perfect time to examine the cost and feasibility of adding equipment, especially with all the changes stemming from Next Generation 9-1-1 and FirstNet. Not to mention the inevitable list of APCO and FCC updates we’re bound to see as smart technology and digital communications become more mainstream.

In that respect, it’s never too early to think about the future. Adopting these services ahead of the rush will help your responders and operations staff adjust to the changes without the added pressure of deadlines.

Stage 3: The Functionality Audit

While room configurations might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a communications assessment, having the right setup is integral to functionality. After all, how many hours does your staff spend at their workstations staring at multiple monitors and juggling keyboards? Probably a lot.

Whether they’re dispatching, answering 9-1-1, or running data—your staff needs a functional workspace to perform their duties. Meaning cords, cables, and wires should be unobtrusive and not easily dislodged whenever someone reaches for the radio or phone. Likewise, sit to stand consoles, or wireless headsets can make all the difference in a 16-hour shift. Even new chairs can bring relief to aching necks or backs. All of these options can be added over time and don’t have to cost a ton to be effective.

One last thing. Remember to talk to your solutions provider(s) before changing workstation or equipment layouts. While some of these updates may be easy to implement, if you need to relocate monitors, chargers, racks, or towers, it’s essential to consult with your communications technician before adjusting or rearranging anything. There may be an underlying reason for the equipment’s current location.

Okay, that’s it — you’re good to go for another year. See, the whole process doesn’t sound that bad. Does it?

We guarantee it’s a lot less expensive and a lot less stressful than the alternatives of unanticipated failures, breakdowns, or safety hazards.

And who knows? You may find that your communication center is running at 100 percent.

If not, at least you’re ahead of the problem, and you may have the evidence you need to get approval for that new system or application you’ve been looking at.

Either way, it’s a win for your team. Especially considering the stakes involved in emergency communications.

By: Paul Guest

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