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Become a 911 Dispatcher: Education Requirements and Salary Info

Learn how to become a 911 dispatcher. Research the career requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in emergency dispatching.

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Do I Want to Be a 911 Dispatcher?

Citizens experiencing an emergency, such as a fire or burglary, phone 911 to talk to a dispatcher. By quickly determining the situation and location, a 911 dispatcher is able to communicate the necessary information to fire fighters, police officers, or other emergency response technicians. 911 dispatchers can potentially save lives through their work.

The majority of dispatchers for police, fire, and ambulances are full-time and work 8- to 12-hour shifts; some dispatching agencies may operate on 24-hour shifts. On-call and overtime hours are common and most shifts include evening, night, and/or weekend hours. The job can be very stressful due to the fact that dispatchers are often the receivers of life-and-death and other high-pressure or disturbing phone calls. The career can be greatly rewarding, as well, because dispatchers play an important role in getting help to those that need it.

Job Requirements

Becoming a 911 dispatcher involves a lengthy application process followed by a training program of 3-6 months. Continuing education is a necessary requirement for individuals in this vocation. The following table outlines common requirements to become a 911 dispatcher as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Common Requirements
Degree Level Not always necessary, but an associate's or bachelor's degree may preferred by employers
Degree Field Criminal justice, communications, computer science
Licensure and Certification Certification may be required depending on the state
Key Skills Strong listening skills, empathy, ability to multi-task, leadership skills, problem-solving skills
Computer Skills Typing skills, proficiency in computer-aided dispatch software
Additional Requirements Clean criminal background, ability to pass a lie detector and drug test, good hearing and vision, U.S. citizenship

Step 1: Earn the Appropriate Education

In most cases, a high school diploma or the equivalent is enough for entry-level dispatcher positions, but some employers may not even require this level of education. In other cases, certain emergency response agencies may favor applicants who possess a college degree. The BLS reports that candidates with a two- or four-year degree in criminal justice, communications or computer science may have an advantage when applying for jobs. Some agencies may even require applicants to possess this degree. An associate's or bachelor's program can help an aspiring 911 dispatcher gain valuable skills to help him or her excel after graduation.

Success Tips

  • While in a degree program, take relevant electives. 911 dispatchers need to possess a wide range of job-specific skills, so taking relevant electives outside of the major area of study can help an aspiring dispatcher gain experience. For example, a criminal justice major could benefit from computer courses, or a computer science major could benefit from liberal arts or communications courses.
  • Learn a foreign language. According to the BLS, candidates who speak a foreign language may have an advantage over candidates who are not bilingual. Taking courses in a foreign language, such as Spanish, can give a prospective dispatcher a way to stand out in the job market.

Step 2: Complete the Application Process

Before becoming a 911 dispatcher, a lengthy application process has to be completed. First, a normal application is filled out and submitted to an emergency response office along with a resume. A self-assessment questionnaire is then offered to the 911 dispatcher applicant. Additionally, a typing examination might be required to test the typing skills of the applicant. If not, applicants may be asked for an official document certifying their typing skills.

Before being accepted into the training program, a thorough background check is performed to look for any criminal charges and illegal drug use along with determining if the applicant possesses the necessary stress-resistant personality to handle this career. An applicant that passes the background check attends a final interview with a panel of professionals.

Step 3: Complete a Dispatcher Training Program

After being accepted as a potential 911 dispatcher, a training program must be completed. The BLS stated that programs typically require at least 40 hours of initial training in both a classroom setting and on the job. Training programs usually cover a variety of topics, including professional ethics, domestic violence, radio technology, telephone technology and more. Hands-on training is performed with experienced professions.

Step 4: Consider Certification

Certification is voluntary in some states and mandatory in others. Certification may be completed directly through the agency of employment in some cases, and may be included as part of the training program.

Step 5: Participate in Continuing Education

Continuing education is a necessary requirement to remain in this vocation. A 911 dispatcher regularly participates in new training programs offered by his or her employer. Some dispatchers choose to fulfill this requirement by pursuing certification or coursework with organizations like the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch. This organization has certificate programs and classes available in fire, medical and police dispatching. Dispatchers may also choose to continue education with Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) training, which will enable them to give medical advice when taking calls.

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