Typical Public Safety Comm Centers

A public safety communications center is a very particular place--full of electronics for radios, recorders and computers. It creates a very special workplace that a dispatcher must become accustomed to in order to excel. Notice the proximity between dispatchers--it's close. In some larger agencies, call-takers and radio dispatchers work in separate areas, rooms or even on different floors. However, some interaction between dispatchers is an advantage.

The above photo shows three Motorola-brand radio consoles arranged side-by-side. Each is configured identically for radio, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and telephones. There is also a TTY on the top of the middle console for communicating with the hearing impaired. Each console also has a instant playback recorder, an speaker intercom system throughout the headquarters building, a E911 display and a set of drawers for papers and other supplies.

Notice that two consoles have a supply of IBM-style incident cards to be used in case the CAD system is not working. The left console has several reference binders for the state and federal teletype system and criminal justice databases (wanted person, vehicles, missing persons, etc.).

For a closer view of the center console, click on the console itself. Consoles didn't always look like this, and portable radios used to be larger.

Surf our Comm Center Design page, and download our to-scale drawings (Acrobat, pdf format) of comm center consoles, desks and other furniture that you can use to plan your comm center layout. Feel free to e-mail with more ideas for additions to this configuration planner. [Acrobat .pdf format, 20k].

  • The Charlotte-Mecklenberg (NC) police comm center is a recently-built example of excellent design. It features clustered desks with dividers, with desktop terminals, radio and telephone controls, and a bright, airy atmosphere. As of about 1996, this is the trend--use standard office furniture and dump the proprietary consoles. Put the radio and telephone control gear on top of an ergonomically-adjustable desk, and arrange the workstations in groups or pods. In other words, make the comm center as attractive, easy to use and as friendly as possible. Call-Taker's Workstation Radio Dispatcher's Workstation Over-all View Complete Site Visit, during 1997 APCO National Conference
  • DISPATCH Monthly visited Albuquerque (NM) Police Department comm center during the 1998 APCO conference. Dispatchers operated from the basement of a former sheriff's department. They moved to a brand-new comm center in April, 1999. When we visited, they had side-by-side call-taker and radio dispatcher consoles. An adjacent supervisor's position can monitor telephones, radio and alarms. In a separate room, NCIC operators manage a separate radio channel for driver's license, warrant and vehicle registration requests.
  • The Bernalillo County (NM) Sheriff's Office operates from a new comm center (opened Sept. 1997) that is bright, cheery and comfortable. It has an administration area, an open dispatch floor, a computer room, power room, telephone room and training room. The call-taker consoles have less equipment that a radio dispatcher's, but the work stations are essential identical. They use roller balls instead of mice. They also have an area for the Tandem computers, servers for outside links, and logging recorders (new and old). DISPATCH Monthly visited this comm center during the 1998 APCO conference.
  • The Santa Rosa (Calif.) police-fire comm center was renovated in late 1997 to include ergonomic workstations, indirect lighting and other amenities. The most obvious feature during our visit was the windows that run the full length of the center, and almost from floor to ceiling. We include photos of an individual console, an overall view showing some of the eight workstations, and another view of the console groups.
  • The Baltimore City (Md.) police department comm center is not new, but it has an interesting layout, some high-tech equipment and sharply-dressed dispatchers. We visited during a 1997 NENA conference and saw the main radio dispatch area, the call-taker area, and the 311 call-taking room. Also take a look at the city fire department's history page, which includes some impressive photos of a former comm center--all the male dispatchers are wearing white shirts!
  • The Ada County (Id.) Sheriff's comm center Web page provides a thorough and clear explanation of their personnel, facility and services. There are sample telephone call transcripts to familiarize citizens with what a 911 call is like, an explanation of 911 and EMD, and photos of the center.
  • The Baltimore County (Md.) police comm center has 18 call-taker positions, and nine police radio dispatch consoles, each controlling a different geographic area, and organized by geography. There are two fire radio dispatchers who receive CAD incidents and dispatch units. After the incident is dispatched, it's handed off to three other dispatchers, who handle different geographic areas of the country, and one dispatcher who handles only mutual aid incidents from Centracomm II consoles.
  • The Baltimore (Md.) city police comm center is located on the 4th floor of the police station. There are six desks for 311 operators in a small office off the main comm center, and another two consoles inside the main call-taker area. Down the hallway is the window into the computer room, and further along are the two large rooms, separated by glass, that house the radio dispatchers and the 911 call-takers. The radio dispatchers use a single, reddish, gas-plasma video display terminal to show four screen of information.
  • The Charlotte (NC) Fire Department is a five-position center on the second floor of Fire Station #1 in the city's uptown area. It features a home-brew CAD system, trunked radio and a Positron telephone system. We visited the center in June, 1999 during the annual National Emergency Number Association (NENA) conference. We profiled the center during our on-line coverage and created a page of thumbnail photos to show the center.
  • Take a photographic tour of the Hamilton County (Tenn.) 911 center--it's quite impressive!
  • It's also good to have a sense of history, which is why suggest you visit the KMA 367 site--of course everyone recognizes the LAPD callsign, right? The site operated by Harry Marnell has a brief history of the department's comm center and some great vintage photographs of the most up-to-date site of its time.Check an August, 1999 newspaper article about the under-construction Las Vegas Metro comm center, which will feature a lot of technology.
  • The Indiana State Police have a museum on the west side of Indianapolis that contains an excellent collection of vintage cars and equipment. One small section of the museum has an old Motorola Centracom console against the wall, and an old style teletype. A display case nearby has several vintage mobile and portable radios. The nearby wall has a collection of old photographs of State Police comm centers.
  • Salt Lake City Police & Fire Communications Center, as toured during the 2000 annual conference of NENA.
  • The Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communication Center, Murray (Utah), as toured during the 2000 annual conference of NENA.
  • Bonnevile County (Id.) comm center [view #1] [view #2] [main page]
  • During the 2000 annual conference of APCO, we visited the Boston Police and EMS comm centers, and the Cambridge (Mass.) fire department center. [also check Linda Olmstead's photos of Cambridge FD, and Cambridge's own Web site.
  • During the 2000 annual conference of NAEMD, we visited the Las Vegas Fire Department, and AMR ambulance comm centers.
  • What happens when you move to a new comm center? You leave the old one behind, that's what! We have this exclusive look at a police-fire comm center that was abandoned for a brand new center--don't get nostalgic.
  • Central Lane Communications, Eugene (Ore.) -- excellent example of open workstation arrangement, windows, ergonomic furniture and flat, LCD screens for computers overall view / console view / entrance to building / their own Web site photos
  • The Shelby County (Ala.) 911 Web site has some great photos of their comm center, and loads of current stats and news. Especially examine the furniture (carts, not consoles!), the 3-monitor set-up (all from one computer, so there's just one mouse & keyboard!), and the arrangement of computers.
  • This privately-operated Web site profiles the Coral Springs (Fla.) comm center as part of its description of the city and community. Webmaster Howard Melamed writes a great description of the center, and includes some photos, too.
  • Barnstable County (Mass.) Sheriff's consolidated comm center.
  • During the 2001 APCO Conference in Salt Lake City, we visited the just-opened Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC), which is an architectural wonder! Check the dispatch floor windows, high ceilings and other design features in our collection of photos.
  • During the 2002 NENA Conference, we visited the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Agency, which consolidates communications for the Indianapolis Police and Fire Departments, Marion County Sheriff, county EMS agency, and 8 outlying fire departments.
  • Harry Marnell has posted the first "sneak preview" photos of the new LAPD comm center, which show the consoles and layout.
  • We visited (again) the Nashville Metro Police-Fire comm center during the 2002 APCO conference, and took photos.
  • Here's Aiken (Geo.) police dispatcher Nancy Holley staring at four computer screens and a Motorola console.
  • The North Mecklenburg (NC) Communications center has posted several detailed photos of their console equipment and layout.
  • The Phoenix (Ariz.) Fire Department maintains the Hall of Flame Museum, which has a reconstructed, 1970-era comm center.
  • During the 2003 NENA conference, we toured the Denver Consolidated Communications Center, wrote up a report, and took some photos.
  • The Las Vegas (Nev.) Fire Department has posted some photos of its center and information about the operation.
  • Thanks to Jack Phillips for the photos of the Keller (Tex.) police comm center [#1] [#2]
  • The Rural Metro EMS comm center in Mountlake Terrace (Wash.) is depicted in some photos.
  • The Orange County (NC) comm center is described with photos.
  • PHI Air Medical provide helicopter EMS transport for six states, and their comm center is shown here.
  • The University of Toledo (Ohio) has a small center shown on this page.
  • The 911 Telecommunications Center in Bonneville (Idaho) is shown here.
  • The tiny Palmer Police Department shows off its comm center here.
  • The Woodbridge (Conn.) Police comm center is shown here.
  • The Gray (Maine) comm center is shown in a series of photos.
  • The Pennsylvania Department of General Services has a comm center at the capital for public safety and security duties.
  • Vacaville (N. Calif.) Fire Department comm center.
  • The Hickory Hills (Ill.) Police Department is shown here.
  • The communications center in Bell County (Tex.) is shown here.
  • The Bakersfield (Calif.) Police Department comm center is explained and shown here.
  • A photo of the Mentor (Ohio) comm center.
  • No photos, but the 2006 annual report (pdf) of the Valley Emergency Communications Center (Salt Lake, Utah)