How to Become a 911 Dispatcher
|Degree Required||High school diploma|
|Other Requirements||Training, certification|
|Annual Mean Salary (2018)*||$43,290 (police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers)|
|Estimated Job Growth (2016-2026)*||8% (police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers)|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
911 dispatchers, also often called public safety telecommunicators, generally answer emergency phone calls. Becoming a dispatcher generally requires a mix of education and detailed training to know how to quickly identify different kinds of emergencies, how to properly respond to the emergency, and how to coordinate emergency response efforts. Those learning how to be a 911 operator will also learn skills and information like:
- Dispatching police, ambulance, or fire trucks
- Providing medical instructions over-the-phone
- Tracking the status of emergency units
- Providing the appropriate information to emergency units
- Maintaining call records
A 911 dispatcher usually undergoes initial training and a probationary period, followed by continuing education throughout their career. Below, we explore the 911 operator education and training required in more depth.
911 Dispatcher Qualifications
911 dispatcher requirements are fairly minimal as most dispatchers only need a high school diploma or its equivalent. Aspiring dispatchers will also typically need to pass a background check, vision and hearing exams, drug tests, and/or a lie detector test. Occasionally, 911 dispatchers may be required to hold a valid driver's license. Some jobs may also prefer applicants with basic computer skills, customer service experience, and/or the ability to speak Spanish.
Outside of education and passing the necessary background tests, 911 dispatchers need to be empathetic, calm, and patient as they handle emergencies. Other important personality traits and skills to have for the job include listening and communication skills, quick decision-making skills, and the ability to multi-task. It is also beneficial to have accurate typing skills to log details of calls quickly.
911 Dispatcher Training
Training for 911 dispatchers vary by state so students can check the requirements for training and certification for their specific state through the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO International). Some states allow individual organizations to mandate their own training requirements, while other states may require 40 hours or more of initial training. It is also common for states to require continuing education every few years.
Emergency dispatchers may pursue different kinds of online dispatcher training courses and/or training from professional associations, based on their state and organization's requirements. For example, the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) offers a number of emergency dispatcher certification courses in and recertification/retesting services. Students can become certified through police, medical, fire, and emergency telecommunicator courses.
How Much Do 911 Dispatchers Make?
Emergency dispatcher salaries vary by state and the organization for which they work, but in general, the BLS reported that police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers made an average annual salary of $43,290 in 2018. As of May 2019, Payscale.com reported that the median 911 operator salary was $16.08 per hour. This website also reported that a 911 dispatcher salary is likely to increase with years of experience, as dispatchers with 5 to 9 years of experience made an average of $17.18 per hour and those with 20 years or more experience made an average of $21.25 an hour.
Professional associations, like IAED, may also offer additional courses and certifications for dispatch center managers. Through these kinds of advanced certifications and training, students can advance to senior dispatcher or supervisor positions. Other dispatchers interested in the medical side of emergency care may consider becoming a paramedic and earning their bachelor's degree in emergency medical services.