Emergency Dispatcher Training Programs and Education Requirements

Emergency dispatchers dispatch emergency response calls to police, firefighters and ambulance services. They typically work in 911 call centers. Some emergency dispatchers may work in only one emergency response area, such as directly for fire departments or police departments. On-the-job training, certificate programs and certification courses are important ways in which aspiring emergency dispatchers develop necessary communication and management skills.

Education and Training Requirements and Recommendations

For the most part, emergency dispatchers receive extensive on-the-job training. As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (www.bls.gov), emergency dispatchers typically develop required skills within 3-6 months of on-the-job training. Police departments, fire departments, ambulance services and 911 call centers generally develop minimum training hours, shifts and probationary periods relating to emergency dispatchers. Some emergency dispatch agencies prefer to hire people with previous related job experience.

The National Academies of Emergency Dispatch (NAED) (www.emergencydispatch.org) offers a 40-hour certification program for beginning emergency dispatchers addressing technologies, procedures and management skills applicable to this field. Emergency dispatcher courses and programs are also available at some community colleges and police academies. Many of these programs are designed to follow that of the NAED 40-hour certification program, which is regarded as the standard in the industry.

Formal Education

A high school diploma or general education diploma (GED) is typically the only educational requirement of most employers. No formal college degree is required in order to become an emergency dispatcher, and there currently is no degree program specifically designed for emergency dispatchers available at any U.S. college or university. However, some community colleges offer emergency dispatcher certificate programs.


College emergency dispatcher certificate programs are generally 2- to 3-term programs. Topics addressed in an emergency dispatcher certificate program include call taking techniques, emergency medical dispatching, communications, stress management, criminal law and crisis intervention. Some programs might involve students riding with emergency personnel or participate in community emergency preparedness activities. Completion of a certificate program qualifies one to take NAED certification exams.

Job Experience

Some employers might require that applicants have prior call taking and dispatching experience, even in a non-emergency capacity. Prospective emergency dispatchers can satisfy this requirement by having at least one year's experience in a customer service call center or freight truck dispatching center.

On-the-job training is the most common method used to properly train emergency dispatchers. Some employers might use a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on training. New employees might be subjected to working different shifts to be exposed to all variables associated with emergency dispatching. A probationary period of up to 12 months might also apply.

Licenses and Certifications

NAED currently offers several certifications in the field of emergency dispatching. Certification courses and exams are given in the areas of emergency medical dispatching (EMD), emergency fire dispatching (EFD), emergency telecommunications (ETC) and emergency priority dispatching (EPD). CPR certification is a prerequisite to medical dispatching certification. The ED-Q certification program addresses systems used in medical, police or fire dispatching. This program is open to those already holding an EMD, EFD or EPD certification.

Workshops and Seminars

NAED holds an annual conference presenting workshops, meetings and networking opportunities for emergency dispatchers. Some colleges offer law enforcement workshops which include sessions or seminars for emergency dispatchers. Seminar topics might include stress management, customer service and civil liabilities relating to emergency dispatching.

Additional Professional Development

Continuing education requirements must be met in order to sustain NAED certifications. For most certification types, 24-30 hours of continuing education must be taken every two years. Continuing education can be in the form of classroom instruction, seminars or workshops. Certified emergency dispatchers must also be recertified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) every two years to maintain the EMD or EMD-Q certification.

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