Counties and cities that don’t have a combined 911 call center for the different types of emergency services rely on 911 call takers to initially receive the call, determine if it is an emergency, and if so, if it requires either police or EMS and fire services. Armed with basic information on the nature of the emergency and where services are needed, 911 call takers then transfer callers to the correct emergency provider. 911 call takers are the logistical experts of the 911 system, as they are responsible for expeditiously answering and transferring all calls that come in requesting emergency services.
Many emergency communications centers provide public safety dispatching for a number of cities and towns within a specific county, so there can be a number of fire departments, police departments, and EMS units serviced by 911 call takers.
Although 911 call takers, unlike police or fire/EMS dispatchers, are not required to coordinate specific emergency units, they are nevertheless a vital component of a city, county or municipality’s 911 emergency services system, as they must ensure that the information is swiftly and clearly relayed to the appropriate agency.
As such, they must be able to:
- Obtain critical information and route the call as quickly as possible
- Make quick decisions and react with reason
- Properly assess calls to determine whether they are of an emergency or non-emergency nature
- Gather critical information from callers
- Enter information into the CADS system
- Remain calm, professional, courteous, and respectful at all times
The Job Duties of a 911 Call Taker
911 call takers are the first point of contact when someone calls 911. Therefore, their job duties include:
- Answering all incoming 911 calls
- Collecting all pertinent information from the caller using excellent verbal communication skills
- Entering all information into the computer-aided dispatch system (CADS)
- Routing the call to the appropriate dispatcher or other service agency
- Answering all non-emergency calls, determines the caller’s needs, and routing the call to the appropriate dispatcher or service agency
Information that the 911 call taker should obtain from the caller includes:
- Exact location of the incident, including street address, intersection, nearby landmarks, area of a building or home, etc.
- Type of incident
- Accurate description of people, vehicles, places, etc.
- The presence and type of weapons
The 911 call taker jobs also involve determining if the call is a crime in progress (often called “hot calls”), as this type of call requires a specific approach so as to protect the safety of citizens and the responding emergency personnel. A crime in progress may include, among other things: a kidnapping or hostage situation; a high-speed pursuit; a collision with fatal injuries; a domestic incidence with weapons involved; a murder or assault with a deadly weapon; or a robbery.
Callers reporting a crime in progress must always be kept on the line until a police officer arrives. Because these types of incidents are often chaotic and emotional, 911 call takers must be able to quickly obtain the location and as much information about the incident as possible, broadcast the information to all emergency response personnel, and remain on the line with the caller.
Requirements for Becoming a 911 Call Taker
The minimum requirements for 911 call taker jobs include possessing a high school diploma or GED. Although there are no further formal educational requirements, 911 call takers must possess proficiency in reading comprehension, typing, spelling, and multi-tasking, all of which is usually demonstrated through a computer-based pre-employment test.
Further, candidates for these positions must typically pass a drug test, a background investigation, and an in-house training program. Some states require 911 call takers to be state certified, and many are required to pass emergency medical dispatch training courses.
Employers may require some type of experience in communications or customer service for 911 call takers, particularly in complaint resolution or in receiving and transmitting information.
What Makes a Good 911 Call Taker?
There are a number of traits ideal to those pursuing 911 call taker jobs:
- Excellent Voice Quality – A 911 call taker should be able to speak clearly, slowly, and with confidence.
- Proper Etiquette and Professionalism – A 911 call taker should always remain courteous, polite, and professional.
- Authority – A 911 call taker should always maintain control of the phone conversation as to calm down the caller, save time, and attain as much information as possible.
- Patience – A 911 call taker should have patience with callers who may have difficulty conveying the nature of the emergency or their needs, such as children, the elderly, or individuals who have difficulty speaking English.