How to Become a 911 Dispatcher in Chicago, Illinois

The city of Chicago, with its recently revamped 911 call center, has the fastest response time in the world at 1.2 seconds, which effectively connects 210 police and fire facilities with a fiber optics backbone. The new Chicago Emergency Communications Center can handle 3,000 calls an hour and over 6 million calls a year.

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The Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) manage and operate the call center, coordinating responses from police, fire, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Separate dispatchers take calls for the fire and police departments. It takes a large number of 911 dispatchers to manage the heavy volume of calls that the OEMC receives – an average of over 5 million calls per year.

The number of 911 dispatcher jobs in the Chicago area is projected to grow by 7.33% through 2020 according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. They also reported that over 1,500 people worked as emergency dispatchers in this area in 2010. Average wages in the Chicago area are higher than the average for Illinois overall at $50,730 a year in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here you’ll find a step-by-step guide on how to become a 911 dispatcher in Chicago:

Obtain the Necessary Education and Training
Complete the Application Process
Undergo On-the-Job Training



Step 1.  Obtain the Necessary Education and Training

Emergency dispatch jobs in Chicago are specialized for callers that require a response from the police and those that involve the fire department. A number of local and online schools offer associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice or communications—common degrees that students obtain when they are seeking to become a 911 dispatcher.   The requirements to become a police communications operator are different from those of a fire communications operator.

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Police Dispatch – You only need to have a high school diploma to become a police communications operator.  Having a college degree in a relevant field such as communications or emergency management gives you a greater chance of being hired in a competitive job market.

Fire and EMS Dispatch – To apply for a job dispatching fire and emergency response personnel you need to have a working knowledge of emergency medical procedures and be certified as an Emergency Medical Technician/B.  In Chicago, you can learn the emergency medical skills needed to become a fire communications operator by obtaining a certificate at a local school.



Step 2.  Complete the Application Process

The City of Chicago has an award-winning site that you will use to apply for a 911 dispatcher position.  Several steps are involved before you can submit your application.  You must:

  • Register at the site
  • Complete an online candidate profile
  • Search for jobs

Once you have found an available communications position, you must submit your application online.  You may have to mail some documents such as certifications and transcripts directly to the Office of Human Resources.

After your application has been accepted, you will need to take a test that simulates using a keyboard.  You will have to type 25 words per minute.

Once you have passed your exam, the department will thoroughly examine your background.  This involves ensuring that you do not have a history of criminal activity.  In addition, you will be screened to make sure there are no drugs in your system.



Step 3.  Undergo On-the-Job Training

Once you have been hired to be a 911 dispatcher, you will be rigorously trained in using the equipment in the new state-of-the-art call center that was brought online in October 2013.  Specialized training is provided depending on whether you answer calls for law enforcement or for emergency medical and fire calls:

Fire and EMS Dispatch – 911 dispatchers for the Fire Department are trained to ask key questions based on a protocol system that was designed by this department and approved by the state.  This ensures that callers receive the appropriate level of care.

Instead of using computer consoles, you will learn how to use the Public Service Answering Point (PSAP) software and hardware.  The new call center has a computer-aided dispatch system that allows you to respond from calls from any position on the floor.  You can expect to work closely with dispatchers from the other agency in this new call center.

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Police Dispatch – The city of Chicago has been facing a large number of violent crimes and had the largest number of murders of any city in the country in 2012.  The situation had gotten so serious that in 2013, foreign consulates were advising their citizens to avoid certain parts of Chicago.

To help make more effective use of its police force, the Chicago Police Department changed its method of dispatching police officers in the spring of 2013.  It no longer dispatches officers to the scenes of crimes such as burglaries and vehicle thefts when there is no suspect at the scene.

This change is projected to free up the equivalent of 44 officers a day who are then free to respond to more serious crimes.  911 dispatchers route the less urgent calls to police officers assigned to light duty.

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