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What Does a 911 Dispatcher Do?

A 911 dispatcher works with police and emergency medical teams to provide quick responses to emergencies. This expanding career field is ideal for a person with good communication skills and the ability to work under stressful conditions.

Role of a 911 Dispatcher

In an emergency situation, people often call a 911 emergency dispatcher to obtain help from the police, fire department, or emergency medical technicians. As a dispatcher, you take all applicable information, such as the name of the caller, details of the situation, and an address. You then assess the location of emergency medical teams and police officers, and dispatch the appropriate team in case of emergency, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). If you are qualified, you may be called upon to provide medical information to the caller until emergency help arrives. Your job is to stay on the line with the caller, keep them calm, and gather vital information.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Professional certification needs vary by state; exams available include Basic Telecommunicator, Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation/First Aid (CPR/FA) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS)
Key Skills decision-making (essential for quick, appropriate response); multitasking; listening; effective communication of details and coordination of response; empathy (calm and sympathetic in a crisis)
Similar Occupations Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)/Paramedic; Air Traffic Controller
Median Salary (2020) $43,290 (for police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers)
Job Outlook (2019-2029) 6% (for police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Work Environment

A 911 dispatcher works in a very stressful environment; an improper response or delay increases the risk and health of the caller. You must remember that callers are often frightened or excited and may not be able to give you the proper information. In some situations, the caller may become angry or abusive, and you must be able to stay in control of the situation. As a 911 dispatcher, you use telephones and computers and communicate with emergency response teams with two-way radios. Sitting for long periods of time and monitoring a computer screen could cause eye strain and back pain. Although dispatchers generally work a 40-hour week, you are often subjected to rotating shifts and alternative work schedules.

Education and Training

According to the BLS, 911 dispatchers generally, develop their skills in on-the-job training that usually last three to six months. Many states require training or certification from a professional association. As a 911 dispatcher, you may be required to offer medical advice in case of emergencies. Because state and local laws often govern police or emergency medical response teams, some states may require you to pass tests that prove you have achieved a basic level of skills and knowledge. Although a high school diploma is the only formal educational requirement, you may choose to enroll in a course that covers essential topics for 911 dispatchers, such as:

  • Crisis intervention
  • Civil/criminal law
  • Stress management
  • Emergency medical dispatching
  • Radio broadcasting procedures
  • Communication center operations