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How to Become a 911 Dispatcher in California

Every day across California, 6,420 professional 911 dispatchers work to ensure emergency situations are dealt with in a timely and skillful manner. In many of the larger metro areas in the state, 911 dispatch services are divided, with police departments on one side and fire and emergency medical service departments on the other. Outside of California’s urban centers where resident populations are more dispersed, emergency dispatch services tend to be unified under centralized public communication centers.

Last year the average annual salary for dispatchers in California was $55,720 – a figure that reflects the training needed to become a competent dispatcher, and that supports the fact that law enforcement agencies place a high value on these critical-infrastructure employees.

Some of the largest concentrations of 911 dispatcher jobs in California are found in the following metropolitan areas, each of which receives hundreds of thousands of calls for help every year:

  • Los Angeles Metro Area with over 1,000 dispatchers
  • San Francisco Bay Area with over 1,000 dispatchers
  • Riverside-San Bernardino Area with 770 dispatchers
  • San Diego Metro Area with 580 dispatchers
  • Sacramento Metro Area with 450 dispatchers

Education and Training for 911 Dispatchers in California

Each emergency dispatch agency has its own certification and 911 operator training standards. Throughout California, emergency dispatchers receive training or hold additional certification through these agencies:

  • Public Safety Dispatchers’ Basic Course
  • Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALDEA) Certification
  • Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Certification
  • Emergency Medical Dispatch Certification
  • COBOL Computer-Aided Dispatch Certification
  • California Fire Chiefs Association Communications Section Certification
  • Fire Dispatch Training Certification
  • Radio Training Program Certification

From disrupting terrorist attacks and mass shootings, to responding to hostage situations and executing high-risk warrants, the increased focus that California’s state and municipal law enforcement agencies have been placing on tactical training and response capabilities is more important than ever. Public safety dispatchers in the state play a vital role in supporting critical incident commanders in these high-stakes situations. The dedicated public safety dispatchers that work as part of Public Safety Tactical Dispatcher Teams to provide support for critical incident operations participate in specialty training through the California Association of Tactical Trainers (CATT):

  • SWAT Tactical Dispatcher Course
  • Advanced Tactical Dispatcher Course

Besides certification and 911 dispatcher training programs, prospective emergency operators can also demonstrate their level of skill and commitment to the field by earning a degree in a pertinent subject. In addition to adding a competitive qualification, degrees can also improve long-term chances of being promoted up the chain of command.

A professional background and/or degree major in the following areas are directly relevant to the 911 dispatcher job description in California:

  • Communications
  • Emergency Management
  • Psychology
  • Nursing
  • Public Safety
  • Criminal Justice
  • Law Enforcement
  • Fire Science
  • Homeland Security

With online opportunities and the over-100 public and private community, technical, and four-year colleges with campus locations throughout the state, 911 dispatcher candidates should have no trouble finding a relevant education or certification program in California.

Working as a 911 Dispatcher in California

While researching how to become a 911 dispatcher in California, candidates will be curious about what exactly is involved while working as an emergency operator. It is contradictory to say there are typical emergency situations, but it can be said that some emergency situations are more far reaching than others. In addition to coordinating the response to some of the more common police, fire, and medical emergencies, public safety dispatchers may also find themselves fielding calls in the midst of natural disasters, active shooter emergencies and other critical incidents and large-scale events.

California’s 911 dispatchers have been put to the test during several major occurrences:

  • Recent shootings and resulting manhunt throughout Southern California for an urban terrorist ex-police officer
  • Numerous multi-county wildfires
  • 1992 LA Riots
  • Great Earthquake of 1989 centered near San Francisco

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