Training options for 911 dispatchers are usually available from public community colleges. Students need to learn how to work within emergency telecommunications and effectively respond to members of the public who could be highly in distress. For this reason, in-person practice is an important part of training in this field. Schools who offer distance learning options typically use a hybrid format, which combines online coursework with on-campus, hands-on training exercises in a simulated call center. Students may be required to ride with emergency workers to observe crisis situations and participate in disaster drills.
For students who are looking for a fully online program in the healthcare field, an associate's degree in healthcare administration may be a suitable alternative. These programs prepare students for office jobs within medical facilities.
To be eligible for admission into a 911 dispatcher program, applicants must be at least 18 years old and generally need a high school diploma or GED as well as a willingness to submit to a criminal background check. Once admitted, students can typically earn a certificate in six months to a year and go on to sit for the national certification examination.
Program training typically includes a combination of coursework and lab work designed to simulate a real life emergency communication environment. Classes are designed to acquaint students with a variety of emergency situations, as well as provide a background in criminal justice. Specialized Spanish classes may be available to provide students with the vocabulary necessary to communicate effectively with Spanish-speaking callers in crisis situations. The following coursework may be included:
- Criminal and civil law
- Crisis intervention
- Law enforcement operations
- Victims of crime and trauma
- Emergency dispatching
- Stress management
- Spanish for 911 dispatch
- Call center operations
Online coursework is usually completed asynchronously through virtual presentations or slideshows. Schools use course management systems to give distance learners access to lessons, instructional materials and communication tools for class interaction such as discussion boards, e-mail or instant messengers.
The on-campus components of hybrid 911 dispatcher training typically focuses on letting students build skills in dealing with emergency calls within a simulated call center environment. In addition, some programs could require students to ride with emergency workers to observe crisis situations and participate in disaster drills. This field experience enhances students' skills by providing additional insight into the challenges associated with emergency response.
A 911 dispatcher plays a vital role by acting as intermediary between callers and emergency workers. These professionals assess the situation and dispatch the appropriate assistance. In addition to processing emergency calls, 911 dispatchers sometimes process non-emergency information seeking calls, including road condition inquiries.
Trained 911 professionals are eligible to work in a variety of communication environments, including police stations, hospitals and fire stations. To thrive in this stressful environment, candidates should possess strong communication skills and the ability to multi-task. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of police, fire and ambulance dispatchers is expected to decline by 3% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov).
Aspiring 911 dispatchers can enroll in hybrid-format training programs that combine online classes with on-campus simulations and real-world emergency response experience. Programs build the communication and problem-solving skills needed in this high pressure career.