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Public Safety Dispatcher: Education Requirements and Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a public safety dispatcher. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Public safety dispatchers have educational requirements that vary by location, depending on state law and regulations. These programs typically only require a high school diploma or completion of a training or certificate program. Those entering into this career field usually receive extensive on-the-job training through in-house programs.

Essential Information

A public safety dispatcher receives and dispatches emergency calls from the public. A dispatcher may work for local, state or federal government agencies, hospitals or independent emergency centers. Dispatchers in some states may require certification. Educational requirements depend on the jurisdiction. In addition to earning a high school diploma, individuals might participate in training courses or on-the-job training, as well as in certification programs.

Education Requirements High school diploma
Other Requirements On-the-job training
Certification Required in some states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* -3% (decline) for all police, fire and ambulance dispatchers
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $38,010 for all police, fire and ambulance dispatchers

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Public Safety Dispatcher Education Requirements

Education requirements for a public safety dispatcher are set by individual jurisdictions. In many states there are laws and regulations for training and education standards. Some states require certification for dispatchers. Education options include training courses, on-the-job training and certification programs.

In California, for example, the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) offers a basic course for public safety dispatchers. This course covers subjects including ethics, criminal justice, communication, hate crimes, missing persons, abuse and radio technology. POST standards are used by many agencies employing public safety dispatchers in the state.

A public safety dispatcher may receive on-the-job training through an in-house training program. On-the-job training may include reading handbooks, studying maps, listening to dispatch calls and practicing on training calls. Most new dispatchers are monitored for a probation period before they are allowed to work unsupervised.

The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, International (APCO) offers the Radio Technician Certificate (RTC) program, which trains students on using a 2-way radio. Topics covered in the course include FCC regulations, electronics and public safety issues. The National Academies of Emergency Dispatch (NAED) offers the Emergency Telecommunicator Certification (ETC) course, which offers training in emergency communications. This course covers topics that include job stress, communications, job duties and call management.

Public Safety Dispatcher Career Info

A public safety dispatcher works for 911 centers, fire departments, law enforcement agencies and other public emergency centers. The dispatcher is responsible for answering phone calls from the public and dispatching the proper emergency personnel to handle the caller's problem. A dispatcher may also receive complaint calls, handle administrative tasks and relay information among emergency personnel and emergency agencies.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted between 2014 and 2024 a decline of 3% for police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual salary of all workers in this field was $38,010.

Public safety dispatchers require little education beyond on-the-job training to meet certification requirements. Certification may include coursework and passing an exam. These positions have a poor job outlook over the next decade, with a 3% decline predicted, and a median annual salary around $38,000.

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