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How to buy headsets

By Bob Smith
APCO International Director of Strategic Development

With advances in technology, today’s tactical telecommunicators are faced with a variety of choices in headsets. Whether wireless or wired, the varieties range from traditional single to dual sided over muff style, over the ear, boom microphones, in ear microphones and even in the ear bone conduction microphone systems.

When it comes to making the decision on which type of headset to purchase, here are the main things to consider.

1. Comfort
When it comes to headsets, there is no more important component to consider than the experience a user has after an extended period of use. With many wearing styles to choose from an operator must take into consideration their headsets potential to interfere with additional needs such as helmets, gas masks, hazmat suites or even case were they may be exposed to water.

2. User Input
If the communications center manager never wears a headset, then maybe they should have the most amount of direct user input on what type of headsets are needed. In most cases operators are required to use headsets 8, 10 to even 12 hours each day, this consideration needs to also be taken into account when making a purchasing decision. This is not to say that there should be no executive-level input, but it should be focused on narrowing options down based on budget and technology requirements with final decisions on type and style left up to the frontline staff. This level of input will also serve as a small morale boost for employees to know their ideas are considered and their comfort is important to management.

3. Sound Dampening/Amplifying
Remember, people working in a communications center communicate. Considering that this communicating is carried out by numerous people on both the telephone and the radio, and takes place in a confined space, means noise levels will be intense. At the same time, there is a need to amplify telephone callers and field responders on the radio during high-stress periods and other instances when yelling is not an option. Finding a headset that balances these two requirements is imperative.

Relatively no other piece of equipment in today’s communications center is subjected to the level of use and abuse as that of the telecommunicator’s headset. For that reason, they should be resilient, effective and comfortable. There are many different types and styles available to choose from, but narrowing down your choices to those that meet those three basic requirements will make the decision process simpler.

  • Any other suggestions? Anything we missed in the list above? Leave a comment below or e-mail with your feedback.

Bob Smith is the Director of Strategic Development at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International. His almost two decades in public safety includes rising through the ranks from firefighter/EMT to captain of the department’s hazardous materials response and through the ranks of public safety communications from telecommunicator to county 9-1-1 Director. Along the way, he’s been actively involved in emergency management on the state and local levels, served as a nationally registered EMT, a College Campus Safety Officer, an EPA-certified hazardous materials technician and a liaison to the US Secret Service and US Capitol Police. A world-renowned lecturer and subject matter expert in the public safety arena and author of “Active Shooter Incidents for Public Safety Communications,” “The Telecommunicator’s Role in Homeland Security” and other public safety-oriented texts, Bob has been featured in interviews with NBC, ABC News, USA News and the Associated Press among others.

APCO International is the world’s largest organization dedicated to public safety communications. More than 15,000 members rely on APCO for their professional needs – from examining standards and issues to providing education, products and services. It is a member-driven association of communications professionals that provides leadership, influences public safety communications decisions of government and industry, promotes professional development, and, fosters the development and use of technology for the benefit of the public. Its subsidiaries include the APCO Institute, Automated Frequency Coordination and the Public Safety Foundation of America.