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How to Become a 911 Operator/Dispatcher

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Public Safety Dispatchers are the front line of help for the general public. This rewarding career is suitable to anyone interested in helping people. This is a very rewarding job working within the community and helps save lives.


  1. 1
    Investigate opportunities. Some localities hire for Police, Fire and EMS dispatchers as separate jobs, while others hire as a single job. Typically, smaller communities have public safety dispatchers, and the larger ones hire for separate police, fire and EMS departments.
  2. 2
    Express an interest. Answer advertisements for these positions or contact the individual departments to learn about the hiring process.
  3. 3
    Get qualified. Some localities may utilize a Civil Service Examination from which to draw interested individuals. If the department you are interested in joining requires this step, ask about where to get information on the next examination. Unfortunately, these exams are typically offered only every 2 or three years (unless the candidate list has been depleted). The list of those that successfully completed the examination will be valid until the next examination.
  4. 4
    Formally apply for openings. If there is no Civil Service Examination for the job you are interested in, the only way the department will know of your desire is if they have an application on file to review. Contact the town, city, county or state personnel or human resources department to obtain a job description and application. If a printed job description is not available, ask about qualifications that may be required or given a preference. Complete and return the form.
  5. 5
    Obtain prerequisites. Some localities have prerequisites (first aid, CPR certificates, etc.) for positions. Use this time to obtain (if such prerequisites exist) them while waiting for openings or examinations. When complete, be sure to provide an updated application reflecting the new certification(s) earned. If there are no prerequisites, but a preference is given to those candidates that have the certificate(s), consider obtaining one or more of them on your own, so that you will be a candidate that will receive a preference.
  6. 6
    Listen via scanner to the radio communications of the department. Get a "radio ear" for the department that you wish to work in. Listening will make unfamiliar terms easy to recognize and learn. Many terms are unique to law enforcement and medical dispatching. Knowing them will help you get up to speed quickly when hired.
  7. 7
    Develop good communications skills. Many dispatchers split time answering 911 phone calls from the general public and dispatching officials via two-way radio. Speaking clearly is something that can be practiced all day / every day. There will be situations where callers needing help will be excited and difficult to understand. Speaking calmly to them can help to calm them down. This will make obtaining the information you need to get the help they want, faster and easier. Likewise, a clear, calm voice at the dispatch microphone will make it easier to those at the "other end" to understand you over street noise, traffic, sirens and the host of other "less than optimal" conditions they encounter.
  8. 8
    Interview for positions. If you have followed some of the steps above, you should be able to speak intelligently and clearly in the interview. It is imperative that you possess a high level of verbal and written communication skills.

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  • Most departments use computers for dispatching and providing data requests. Keyboard and spelling skills will likely be required.
  • If dispatching is something you want to eventually do, but are currently in school or otherwise not able to take a full-time position right away, try getting a part-time job that will further your skills in that area and look good on a resume. For example, become a student security guard at school, or lifeguard, or answer phones for a business.


  • Don't do anything illegal anytime soon. Having a criminal background is not going to help your chances of getting a job with a police department or emergency services department, especially since you will be handling law-enforcement-sensitive situations and information.

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Categories: Legal Careers

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