What is a 911 Dispatcher?

Within the United States, there are now more than 6,000 primary and secondary public safety answering points (PSAPs), all of which are staffed by professionals who are highly trained and skilled in emergency communications.

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911 dispatchers are the heartbeat of the nation’s 911 system and are the professionals called upon to ensure that citizens receive the best emergency communications and dispatch services by remaining calm, gathering information, and providing assistance to individuals in need.

Their work involves answering inquiries, referring calls to appropriate law enforcement agencies or emergency medical services companies, determining the response requirements and prioritizing situations, and dispatching units according to a set of established procedures.

911 dispatcher jobs require excellent communication skills and the ability to work under stressful situations. 911 operators take all applicable information from the caller, including details and the address of the emergency. Through gathering of information, 911 operators are then able to dispatch the appropriate team or transfer the call to the applicable agency. Many 911 dispatchers are also qualified to provide medical information to the caller until emergency help arrives.

911 dispatcher jobs require candidates with some technical savvy, as they will be responsible for operating advanced emergency communications systems through their computers.

Call Takers, Police Dispatchers and Fire & EMS Dispatchers

Depending on the jurisdiction, 911 operator jobs may be found in centralized dispatching centers, where all emergency calls are received and routedan through a single enhanced 911 system. 911 dispatcher jobs are also found in individual police or fire/EMS dispatch centers in jurisdictions without a centralized system.

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In jurisdictions without a centralized emergency communications system, jobs in this field are usually distinguished as:

  • 911 call takers who are tasked with receiving 911 calls and routing them to the appropriate dispatching service.
  • Police dispatchers who are tasked with organizing all dispatching services for the appropriate police department.
  • Fire/EMS dispatchers who organize and dispatch fire units, ambulance, or medivac while communicating directly with emergency personnel.


The Challenges and Rewards of a Career in 911 Dispatching

Although the job description and the job duties of a 911 dispatcher are fairly straightforward, the challenges and rewards of this profession may not always be so evident. Here are the specifics of a 911 dispatcher job that, although may not appear on a job description, are fundamental aspects of this career:

  • Emergency dispatching can be incredibly taxing, and is therefore not for everyone. No amount of training and education can prepare an individual to handle a frantic caller or a caller whose life is in danger. Some people can be calm in these situations, while others simply cannot. 911 dispatchers must be able to keep their stress at bay and handle their emotions at all times.
  • Teamwork is essential to the success of a 911 dispatcher. Professionals in emergency communications must be able rely on each other to get the job done because no one person can do everything at once.
  • Multi-tasking is important because 911 dispatchers may be required to keep a caller calm, dispatch emergency services, and provide medical assistance at the same time.
  • 911 dispatchers must be able to recover from difficult situations. Although many times these professionals will second guess their actions following particularly difficult calls and feel the burden of these calls, letting work become overwhelming can result in undue anxiety and stress.
  • A job in emergency dispatching can be incredibly rewarding, particularly following a situation where emergency communication services help save a life. The sense of gratification and fulfillment experienced following a harrowing 911 call is one of the reasons many of these professionals remain in this field for a long period of time.


About the National 911 Office

The National 911 Program was originally created in 1968 by Congress so as to better coordinate information sharing and activities among public and private 911 stakeholders and federal agencies. It is housed within the Office of Emergency Medical Services, which is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. As such, the National 911 Program develops and distributes a variety of tools to ensure that our nation’s 911 program is dependable, reliable, and constant, regardless of where and when 911 is dialed.

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Now, the National 911 Program provides federal leadership and coordination in supporting and promoting the best 911 services throughout the nation. The current 911 system allows individuals to access a universal number to reach police, fire, or emergency medical assistance from any phone and from any location. Through this program, the efforts of states, technology providers, public safety officials, and 911 professionals, are coordinated to ensure a smooth, reliable and cost-effective 911 system.

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