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A Manager's Guide to Dispatch Chairs

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by Barry Furey

Originally published in our June, 2006 issue.

Few things are anatomically further from yet closer to a telecommunicator’s heart than his or her… well… er, seat.  After all, even in jurisdictions that utilize adjustable consoles, chances are that a good portion of the shift is spent sitting down.  And, with overtime and twelve hour shifts a daily reality for some, poorly designed or constructed seating can be a real pain in the; well, you get the picture.

All kidding aside, selecting and purchasing the proper chair can go a long way towards providing a comfortable environment in the PSAP.  A good quality chair can cost several hundred to over one thousand dollars, but how do you know that you’re getting the most for your money?  There are some basic questions that must be asked.

First, is the chair fit for duty?  There are several terms to look for including, continuous duty, rated for 24 hour use, and ergonomic.  While most chairs are what they say they are, phrases can often be loosely used, so it pays to examine further.  Look for references from applicable services like air traffic control facilities, private sector call centers, and 9-1-1 centers that have used the chair in question for several years.

Warranty and repair should also be concerns.  For how long and under what conditions is the chair warranted, and is the warranty all inclusive?  Will repairs be on site or is returning it to the dealer required?  What is the turn-around time for repairs, and can some minor problems be fixed by the user with common tools without voiding the guarantee?

Stability is also a major issue.  Can it tilt without tipping?  How many legs does it have?  Typically, the more legs it has, the more stable the base.  Is it intended to be used on carpet, vinyl, or both?  Often casters are designed for one or the other surface, so it’s best to tell your vendors where you’re going to use the chairs.  Or, better yet, they should ask you.  And, speaking of casters, how easy are they to change and how long will they and other parts be available?  A warranty doesn’t mean much without the pieces needed to fix the problem.

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Multiple adjustments are another big benefit.  The chair shouldn’t be more complicated than your CAD system, but you are going to want to be able to change the height of the seat, the angle of the back, and the position of the arms, if so equipped.  Speaking of arms, make sure that they can be positioned so as to avoid constant contact with your consoles, or see to it that they are made of sturdy stuff or are easy to replace.  Over the years I think I’ve personally seen more chairs go to that great furniture graveyard from being chewed up by consoles than for any other reason.

Truly adjustable chairs have separate seat pans and backs that move independently of one another.  Many also have lumbar support devices that can be positioned according to user preference.  Manufacturers offer a wide range of fabric choices and prices, but again, know what you are paying for.  Are the upscale finishes any more resistant to wear or stains than their less costly cousins?  What type of cleaning process is needed to keep them looking good?  Some companies now use an open weave mesh with no padding whatsoever to increase airflow and decrease maintenance.  Still, you want to be sure that whatever you specify meets the applicable flammability codes for your locale.

Another misnomer is that one size fits all.  It doesn’t.  If you are operating a small center, you may have to standardize chairs out of necessity.  However, larger facilities may wish to question if a prospective vendor makes the same model chair in a variety of sizes.  People worldwide have grown taller and gotten heavier, and this must be taken into account when specifying seating.  But, obviously, someone who is six foot six and 280 pounds will have a different comfort zone than a five foot two 100-pound person.  Again, if you must have only one type of chair, this is a perfect argument for the need for a wide range of adjustments.

Perhaps no better tool can be found for selecting an appropriate chair than the test drive.  Surprisingly, many office furniture suppliers will make loaners available to prospective customers.  This is a good way for your personnel to get directly involved in the process.  However, don’t expect a unanimous choice to emerge.  Just like the three bears, it may take some time to find one that is “just right.”  Disagreements will undoubtedly ensue over short versus high back and which brand feels friendlier, but it’s an excellent opportunity to see what’s out there and to narrow the choices down.

Call center seating is more than a creature comfort – it’s a necessity.  Take a stand for your staff by giving them a suitable place to sit.


Barry Furey has been involved in public safety for more than 40  years, having managed 9-1-1 centers in four states. A life member of APCO International, he is the current Director of the Raleigh-Wake County, NC Emergency Communications Center.

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