For Laura Minnick, it feels like Christmas has come early at work.
The desk where the Amherst County dispatcher of nearly 14 years sits to answer incoming emergency calls during 12-hour shifts recently received improvements as part of an overall upgrade for dispatchers’ stations at the county’s 911 call center.
Along with new chairs, the consoles have been updated to elevate so dispatchers can stand if they wish for more movement and flexibility during long shifts. Consoles also have been fitted with holders for beverages, new chargers built into the units and a device with individualized heating and cooling for each desk.
With the simple flip of a switch, hot or cold air blows from the devices next to the computers, giving dispatchers more direct control over their comfort level.
“Each dispatcher can adjust to how they want. You can personalize it,” Minnick said of the personal heating and cooling feature. “You really don’t bother the other dispatchers. You can control that yourself.”
For a job where workers sit in the same spot all day fielding a steady stream of calls and seconds are crucial, the upgrades are much welcomed and appreciated.
“I love them,” Minnick said of the improved working space and its adaptability to workers’ needs. “For 12 hours sitting in this chair, it is a little tiring sometimes. So it’s nice to be able to get up and stand.”
The furniture and console upgrades, a project of about $75,000, were completed in early August and made possible through the Central Virginia Radio Communications Board, said Sam Bryant, Amherst County’s public safety director. The county is a member in the regional entity and dispatch centers in Lynchburg and Bedford County are part of the same improvement project, he said.
Bryant said the old furniture and consoles were “pretty heavy duty” and somewhat outdated. The upgrade gives dispatchers more space and convenience for a profession that well deserves it, according to Bryant.
“This is the nucleus of what we do with emergency services in Amherst County,” Bryant said of the dispatch center, which is located next door to the county’s courthouse and sheriff’s office. “This is everyone’s lifeline right here. This is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation. There’s not a day this place is closed.”
The workload is steady with a relentless volume of calls coming in, he said.
“Sometimes they are stressed just going to the bathroom or eating their lunch or dinner,” Bryant said. “They’re like an astronaut. They’re like trapped here.”
Debbie Campbell, the county’s dispatch supervisor, said the elevated consoles also are beneficial for technicians performing repair work and they have overhead lighting, among other improved features.
The dispatch center has been in its current building since 2004 and moved over from the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office. The previous furniture and consoles were in place since the move, she said.
“This is awesome,” Campbell said of the improvements.
Set to mark to her 27th year in the public safety department in September, Campbell said she has seen much change in the dispatch center and is glad to see the much-needed project come to fruition.
“Sometimes it’s just the little things in life,” Minnick said.
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.