Construction Blues

Sherri Stigler

PSAP consolidations are exploding in many areas of the country, and along with the merging of personnel, equipment, systems, and procedural changes, many are faced with the challenge that comes with construction and remodeling activities in a 24/7 dispatch operations space.

Our center is wrapping up such a momentous experience. In our case, there were two project phases to live through. First was the construction of a brand new administrative wing as well as a new Emergency Operations Center (EOC). While it was challenging for the administrative and management folks to purge, box, and pack up years of accumulated paperwork, the move to functional new office space was a welcome event.

The new EOC means that folks working exercises as well as real events weren’t packed in like sardines as they were in the old space. It also means that the “old” EOC, which doubled as our training and meeting room, became the communication center training room only. The new training desks, screens, and projectors will benefit our trainees and allow our center to host more regional training opportunities.

The second phase was a doozy, folks. A wall in dispatch came down and the operations space now flows into the former administrative area (now emptied). Knocking down a wall in a 24/7 911 center was a sight and sound to behold. Emergency dispatchers got really good at hearing callers despite the hammering, sawing, and occasional fire alarm activations. Doors disappeared and others appeared. We acted like mice in a maze trying to reach destinations—restroom, lunchroom, or to temporary lockers (boxes) piled in the training room. We improved skills in agility, hopping over doorframes, skirting plastic barriers, and avoiding wet paint (which was everywhere). It was interesting to note how different co-workers adapted to daily disruptions from construction while keeping a sense of humor and making the best of the situation.

But that’s what public safety communications personnel do best. They are able to take the bad stuff and make it better.

If your center has plans to grow, you may want to keep these tips at hand.

PREPARE. Nobody likes to be surprised by construction. Management needs to make sure staff is ready by informing them of the scope and timeline of any physical changes to the center. This includes large remodeling projects down to adding a console or other piece of equipment requiring outside vendors working/present in the center. Staff should be told well ahead of time, if possible.

UPDATE. Keep staff updated regarding construction phases as they occur, and announce changes to the project or timeline.

INCLUDE. Management should include the suggestions of staff as much as possible, especially as it relates to features directly affecting them, such as selection and placement of pods, equipment, mailboxes, and lockers. Remember, this is their “work home,” and they are key stakeholders in any project within those walls.

ACCOMMODATE. During the “storming” stage of construction, it might be appropriate to allow dressing more casually due to the construction dust and grubby conditions and provide a place to store personal items while awaiting new lockers. Offer compatible break room options if that area is disrupted. Staff members appreciate your efforts to accommodate them.

Yes, we know growth can be difficult; however, the final product should mediate the short-term discomfort and disruption. At our center, when standing back and assessing the new space, we are grateful. We know these expanded walls will help support the critical work and mission of our roles as “first,” first responders. We are even better prepared and ready to serve our citizens when 911 rings.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sherri Stigler is the Training and Operations Manager for Waukesha County Communications, Wisconsin, USA, a combined dispatch center in southeastern Wisconsin, just west of Milwaukee, a land where the beer runs freely and locals proudly stack cheese on just about everything and call it great.

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