911 Dispatcher Training School and Education Courses

Training and education are an integral part of any 911 dispatcher job. These professionals must be able to effectively gather information and fully assess an emergency situation, then dispatch emergency medical, fire or law enforcement personnel as needed while offering pre-arrival instructions, which may include life-saving medical instructions.

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The nation’s 911 system represents a well-coordinated effort overseen by the National 911 Office. However, public safety answering points (PSAP) are organized at the state level and the specific training programs for 911 dispatchers are managed at the local level. This means that even within a state, education and training requirements often differ from county to county depending upon requirements set by individual public safety answering points.

Formal College Educational Programs

Individuals seeking careers in emergency dispatch often pursue formal college degree programs in an effort to achieve comprehensive knowledge in the field of emergency communications.

There are a number of relevant areas of study that provide an ideal path to a career as a 911 dispatcher, including:

  • Public Safety (management, administration)
  • Emergency Management
  • Homeland Security
  • Criminal Justice
  • Communications

Public Safety Degree Programs

Public safety degree programs are ideal for individuals in emergency dispatching, as well as emergency management, fire protection, emergency medical response, and environmental health and safety, among others. Most of these degree programs provide both a theoretical and applied approach to the study of public safety and emergency management, while emphasizing the fundamentals of public safety within an interdisciplinary course of study.

As such, program highlights of a degree in public safety often include the utilization of communications skills at the personal, professional, and public levels and the development of professional skills and knowledge in the field of public safety.

Coursework in a public safety program, whether as the associate or bachelor level, often includes the following:

  • Technology in Contemporary Society
  • Media and Society
  • Information Systems in Organizations
  • Contemporary Public Safety Practices
  • Public Safety Planning
  • Public Safety Legal Issues and Political Policy
  • Public Safety Leadership

Emergency Management Degree Programs

Degrees in emergency management may prove to be an excellent fit for individuals in emergency dispatch, as they are generally focused on the effective management of emergency response and crisis prevention, thereby giving students the opportunity to analyze theory, concepts, and practical applications associated with emergency planning and public safety.

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Emergency management degrees also expose students to the emergency preparedness process, which includes identifying potential hazards, response planning, and execution. They also provide a number of opportunities for students to explore issues related to mitigation response, infrastructure protection, and the integration of both public and private resources.

Typical coursework within an emergency management degree program often includes:

  • Ethics and Leadership in Safety, Security and Emergency Management Agencies
  • Security Operations Theory and Practice
  • Emergency Management Theory and Practice
  • Contemporary Issues in Public Safety Management
  • Risk Management and Threat Assessment
  • Principles of Security Management

Communications Degree Programs

Communications degree programs are a common choice for individuals interested in entering the field of emergency communications, as they provide study in a number of relevant areas, including organizational communication, interpersonal communication, and public media, among others.

A communications degree allows students to achieve a number of educational goals, including analyzing and practicing communication behavior and studying human communication from the interpersonal communication level to the mass communication level.

Typical courses in a communications degree program therefore include:

  • Public speaking
  • Written and oral communications
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Research and academic writing
  • Quantitative and scientific literacy
  • Foundations of communication
  • Interpersonal communications
  • Communication theory
  • Narrative concept and development
  • Communicating in the 21st century

Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Criminal Justice degrees provide a practical foundation in the field of emergency communications, and many programs allow students to concentrate their studies in a number of areas.

A criminal justice degree program includes analyzing components of the criminal justice system, which includes studying crime trends, statistics, crime prevention, and victimology. It also includes applying legal concepts within the areas of criminal liability, the use of force, and due process.

Coursework within a criminal justice program often includes the following:

  • Introduction to Criminal Justice
  • Introduction to Law and the Legal System
  • Correctional Systems
  • Criminology
  • Substantive Criminal Law
  • Criminal Investigation
  • Research Methods in Criminal Justice
  • Law Enforcement Systems
  • Comparative Criminal Justice Systems
  • Police Organizations and Administration
  • Criminal Justice Ethics

Homeland Security Degree Programs

Homeland security programs have gained in popularity in recent years, not just for members of law enforcement, but also for individuals interested in careers in intelligence gathering, emergency planning, and infrastructure protection.

A homeland security degree prepares students with coursework involving: the policies and procedures of the Department of Homeland Security; the application of knowledge of the legal issues surrounding homeland security; and the principles of security and surveillance.

Coursework in homeland security degrees may vary quite a bit from one program to the next, although typical courses often include:

  • Global comparative justice
  • Multi-cultural communications for law enforcement
  • Weapons of mass destruction
  • Emergency planning
  • Legal issues in homeland security

Individuals often pursue either associate or bachelor’s degrees in these or similar fields. Further, individuals seeking advanced positions in the field of 911 dispatching may be required to earn a formal college degree, and many agencies allow individuals to substitute some or all of the job’s experience requirements, on a year-by-year basis, for college education.

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Basic 911 Dispatcher Training Programs

Training for 911 dispatcher trainees usually begins when an offer of employment is extended from the PSAP. New 911 operators generally must complete in-service training, which is generally offered at the state level through such agencies as the State Board of Education, the State’s Law Enforcement Academy, or the Department of Public Safety, Standards and Training, although local training programs exist among some PSAPs, as well.

Topics in a basic dispatcher training program often include:

  • Workplace communications
  • Law enforcement overview
  • Ethics and professionalism
  • Civil liability
  • FEMA/Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Criminal law
  • Domestic violence awareness
  • Call Handling
  • Fire/EMS Services
  • Critical Incidents
  • Stress Management

It is common for exams and similar assessments to take place either throughout these programs or at their conclusion.

Other training requirements required of 911 dispatchers include CPR certification through the National Safety Council, the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, or an equivalent.

Most initial training programs for 911 dispatchers last about 40 hours, with additional, on-the-job training lasting anywhere from 6 to 18 months.


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