Estimated reading time: 18 minute(s)
If you work in emergency and/or mission critical dispatch you already know maintaining backup centers are a necessary evil. Whether you’re dealing with routine calls, large-scale incidents, special events, power failures, etc., having a contingency plan for coordinating field operations and teams or communicating with first responders is critical to the mission. Even more important is the ability to get these services mobilized quickly and with minimal interruption to your agency and community.
That said, backup centers are rarely equipped with the same tools you’re used to working with. Depending on your agency’s current setup, the thought of operating from the backup center for any period of time might be enough to make your team want to hide under their headsets and reconsider their career choices. Besides diminished sound quality and limited recording capabilities, painfully slow programs and dark cramped workstations can make the job even more stressful than usual. Even worse, the time it takes to shuttle personnel and settle in these temporary spaces wastes countless hours and usually results in at least some communications breakdowns.
But it doesn’t have to be this difficult. Nor should it be.
With a bit of planning and ingenuity, you can make your backup center more functional and less frustrating—even on a tight budget.
I’ll get to that. But first, let’s go over some of the more common issues we see with backup operations.
Outdated equipment and user interfaces
Backup centers often don’t have to be state-of-the-art. But at the bare minimum, they should be functional enough to enable seamless information transfer. Unfortunately, many backup centers rely on outdated hardware or mobile solutions to perform communication center tasks. Not only can working with older equipment hinder comprehension, but it can also disrupt the transmission flow or overload channels. And while these issues might not be a huge problem at first, during an emergency, even a minor miscommunication or error could pose a significant safety hazard.
Limited paging and monitoring functions
Most backup solutions only allow dispatchers to monitor one channel at a time. Even when utilizing the scan function, you still might miss priority messages. Which is not exactly a comforting thought given the possible ramifications. Being able to locate and speak to all units in the field isn’t a nicety. It’s necessary. And very much mission critical. Whether your team is in the backup or the main operations center, dispatchers must be able to monitor as many channels as it takes to confirm all units receive proper coverage.
Another problem? If your agency is responsible for dispatching fire, EMS, or specialized teams, having limited paging functions can lead to delayed responses or accidental activation’s. What’s worse? Some volunteer agencies use complicated systems of on and off duty tones to organize primary and secondary crews. While a few false activation’s might not cause permanent damage, prolonged loss of full paging capabilities can lead to inertia and dampen morale. Therefore, to ensure alarms are routed to the right people, at the right time, backup solutions should come equipped with the same dispatch and paging functionalities as the primary console.
No prioritization, cross-muting, or unit identifier capabilities
Nobody likes to fight for airtime. Especially when you have priority calls to hand out and that one unit, everyone knows and loves, won’t stop talking. While no one wants to be the person to ruin a good radio monologue, airwaves are precious space. It’s bad enough when other units can’t transmit their messages, but when dispatch can’t cut in or call for silence, things can get downright dangerous. Having the ability to control the channel is vital to keeping everyone safe and informed. With this in mind, all backup center systems should possess master console prioritization capabilities. And yes, while every operator on a channel should be allowed to speak, if everyone talks at once, no one will actually be heard.
Equally important, without cross-muting functions, it can sound like your transmitting across the Grand Canyon. Inconsistent volume, squelch, or echoes often transform critical messages into games of guess, decipher, or repeat. At the same time, not having playback functionalities can make these situations that much worse. Whether you are operating from the comfort of your brand new command center or from a dark basement in an old municipal building—being able to talk, hear, and understand clearly is imperative. Especially when tensions are high, and the clock is ticking.
Further still, when a unit requires assistance but isn’t able to make a verbal request, hitting the emergency key can save their life. This means dispatchers not only need to know the second an emergency key is activated but also who activated the signal. In the interest of officer safety, unit emergency identifiers should be non-negotiable in all dispatch centers—including backup locations. While it may be true that these situations don’t happen often, they only have to happen once to turn into a tragedy. Having access to a display that includes unit identifiers is crucial to making sure everyone gets to go home at the end of their shift.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the problems, there are solutions that can help keep your backup center operating at full power.
Whether you’re already running MAX Dispatch or looking to boost your backup capabilities with the next console purchase, CommandIQ might be a worthwhile solution to consider. CommandIQ is a fully functional pre-configurable portable dispatch solution.. Designed for easy storage and even easier setup, the compact CommandIQ console itself can be kept out of the way in a drawer, mounted on a wall, or placed on any flat surface. Need to add speakers, foot pedals, headsets, or microphones? Not a problem. These accessories are available for CommandIQ workstations.For standalone systems with CommandIQ consoles Zetron offers rugged protective transport cases and extra power supplies to create a complete mobile dispatch solution in a self contained package.
CommandIQ workstations come complete with an event recorder capable of capturing up to fifteen minutes of recall. It also supports four different work space profile screens and up to 16 radio channels, making it perfect for backup centers, mobile command units, training stations, and even Emergency Operations Centers. And because CommandIQ runs the full version of MAX Dispatch, your team will have access to the same user-friendly interface, button configurations, and mission-critical functionalities they rely on every day.
While not the only way to bolster your secondary communications center, adding the CommandIQ portable dispatch solution can help your team keep focused, confident, and productive no matter their mission or their location.
By: John Martyn
Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!