911 Dispatcher Job Description

A 911 Dispatcher is a telephone, radio or computer operator that connects people in need with fire, police and medical emergency services. They receive a variety of reports, ranging from car accidents to criminal acts in progress and coordinate the dispatch of the appropriate emergency responders.

In addition to dispatching emergency services, 911 Dispatchers often remain in communication with callers, advising them and attempting to keep them calm as they await help. Demand for 911 Dispatchers is expected to increase by 8 percent through 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, resulting in 3,600 new job openings every year.

 

911 Dispatcher Duties and Responsibilities 

A variety of tasks come into play as 911 Dispatchers work to coordinate the appropriate response to callers’ situations. We analyzed job postings to identify these primary 911 Dispatcher duties and responsibilities.

Manage Multiple Lines of Communication

Many emergency dispatchers do not handle a single phone line, but are responsible for handling multiple channels of communication simultaneously, such as radio, telephone or computer messaging. 911 Dispatchers often need to prioritize multiple incoming calls without getting overwhelmed, knowing that their decisions will play a critical factor in emergency services’ response time to each call.

Crisis Management

Because 911 Dispatchers are often a person’s first line of communication with emergency services – whether the issue at hand requires police, fire or medical intervention – dispatchers are sometimes required to deal with people who are terrified or overwhelmed. The emotional discipline necessary to remain calm and walk the caller through the steps necessary to ensure their safety, is a vital part of working with emergency services.

Clerical Work

911 Dispatchers are also called upon to create, copy and file a variety of case records. They may process legal violations, as well as records of stolen, lost or recovered property.

Coordinating with co-workers

911 Dispatchers also work in key roles in the chain of emergency services. They relay information to subordinates, co-workers, supervisors and the relevant emergency services necessary to meet the needs to each caller. These communications come in verbal and written forms.

Monitor Alarms

Those working as 911 Dispatchers may also remotely operate or monitor alarm systems pertaining to theft, armed robbery, intrusion, civil defense and the National Weather Service’s warning systems. This includes using Computer Aided Dispatch systems (CAD) to quickly meet a caller’s needs.

 

911 Dispatcher Skills

Emergency Dispatchers are the key link in the chain connecting people in trouble with emergency services. They’re often called upon to use social and communication skills to help resolve various calls, which can range from the mundane to the life threatening. Circumstances also call for critical thinking skills, to find creative ways of solving problems over the phone.

Core skills: Based on job listings we looked at, employers want 911 Dispatcher with these core skills. If you want to work as a 911 Dispatcher, focus on the following.

  • Experience effectively communicating with people in emotional or physical distress
  • Ability to read maps and provide clear directions
  • Ability to advise callers on how to handle medical and other emergencies
  • Proficiency in basic computer programs, including Microsoft Office and Excel

Advanced skills: While most employers did not require the following skills, multiple job listings included them as preferred. Add these to your 911 Dispatcher toolbox and broaden your career options.

  • Experience with 911 system databases, such as the National Crime Information Center NCIC database, Law enforcement information databases and National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems
  • Proficiency with computer-aided dispatch programs, such as CAD software, such as  Spillman CAD software
  • Experience managing multiple phone lines as an operator, customer service representative or telephone salesperson

 

911 Dispatcher Q & A

Considering becoming a 911 Dispatcher? It’s a difficult yet rewarding occupation, says RJ Beam, a former dispatcher who is now a police officer. We asked Beam to give us the inside scoop on what being a 911 Dispatcher is all about. Here’s what he shared.

What’s the most rewarding part about being a 911 Dispatcher?

This is a job where you know you are doing something that matters, such as talking to a mom on the phone that has a toddler choking and explaining to her how to aid the child, then hearing the kid crying in the background and knowing they are now going to be OK.

What is the biggest challenge faced by 911 Dispatchers?

Multitasking: The phone is ringing with multiple people wanting to report some event, like a car crash. Officers are on the radio asking for updated information on the scene. The fire department is also on the radio wanting to know if they will need just one ambulance or two, also asking if they will need the Jaws of Life. Keep in mind that at the same time you are dealing with this crash someone is calling about neighborhood kids being too loud, a traffic cop has someone pulled over for speeding and a local nursing home is calling about getting an ambulance to transport a resident to the hospital for some test.

What skills do you use every day?

In addition to multitasking, typing skills: We are using computers to dispatch more and more. The system is like some instant messenger systems. You have to type fast to get all the info out to the people working in the street so they can respond. Verbal communication skills are also important. People call upset. You have to talk to them, calm them down and get the information the police and firefighters need to do their job. This means asking hard questions and hearing things you do not want to hear.

Are there any misconceptions people have about being a 911 Dispatcher?

A lot of folks seem to think it is an easy job. It is not. It’s very stressful. Many dispatchers get PTSD just like cops and firefighters do. People think that dispatch does not see all the blood and guts so they are not affected by the job. They hear the screams. They hear the crying. They are stuck on the phone hoping the folks in uniform can get there in time. People on the phone will beg the dispatcher to tell the police to go faster, get to them sooner. It is so sad to hear that desperation and not be able to help out more somehow.

 

911 Dispatching Resources

We searched the Web to find the best industry resources to help you continue exploring a career as a 911 Dispatcher. This list is full of job resources, everything from career overviews, to networking groups and real-life stories of actual emergency dispatchers.

On the Web 

911DispatcherEdu.Org – Provides a step-by-step process for becoming a 911 Dispatcher. This site includes the employment backgrounds related to dispatching emergency calls, comprehensive lists of the skills and tools required in the field, as well as the kinds of testing required.

PortlandOregon.gov/911 – A useful resource including interactive tabs to learn more about or practice various parts of a dispatcher’s duties. Some of these include how to become a dispatcher, take emergency calls and handle 911 call recording, as well as options for job training.

On LinkedIn 

Dispatcher All Types – This LinkedIn group is a collaboration of dispatchers, ranging from police, medical and fire dispatching emergency services. With more than 5,000 members, you’re sure to find some useful people to shed some light on whatever questions you’re dealing with.

PowerPhone – This LinkedIn group is hosted by Power Phone, a business which specializes in training dispatchers for emergency services. This includes telecommunication courses and information on potential liability issues, and provides news items in the field of dispatching.

Industry Groups 

The Public Safety Group – An organization dedicated to providing the highest quality training possible for emergency services dispatchers. Their training has touched the lives of thousands of safety professionals across the country.

911 Magazine – This publication is dedicated to managing emergency publications. They offer a wide assortment of stories, resources and articles to support and educate emergency dispatchers.

I Am a 911 Dispatcher – This personal website is full of stories, advice and support for 911 dispatchers. This is a good resource for learning about the career from fellow dispatchers.

Books 

Answering 911 – A law enforcement based memoir which provides a touching mixture of experiences from an actual emergency dispatcher. Find a taste of the life of a dispatcher between these pages.

Master the Public Safety Dispatcher/911 Operator Exam – This manual provides everything a student needs to pass the exam for becoming a 911 operator. This includes practice tests, reviews of each question type and even strategies to use to make the most of your studying habits.

So You Want to Be a 911 Dispatcher: What to Expect and How to Prepare – The job of a 911 dispatcher is gradually becoming a career-based profession. This book can give you additional resources to build a real career out of a job in emergency dispatching.

 

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