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How to Become a 911 Dispatcher - Becoming an Emergency Communications Officer

Updated on June 8, 2015
tenordj profile image

Jason has been a 911 dispatcher for the last 8 years and a Deputy Sheriff for the last 5 of those years

So you want to know how to become a 911 dispatcher?

Becoming a 911 dispatcher can be one of the most rewarding careers you could ever take part in. If you enjoy helping others, working in a fast paced and sometimes stressful environment, then this just may be the career field for you. This is the one career field where you never know what the next call will bring you. It could be someone had some items stolen and they are needing a report, it could be someone who is tired of life and you're their last shot at asking for help before they end it all, or it could be someone who is having trouble breathing and they need you to get help to them. Are you ready to face the possibility that the next call won't be a total stranger, it may be a close friend or family member. If you think that you have the nerve to handle those and many more unknowns then read on to see what it takes to enter this exciting career.


All 911 centers are different when it comes to requirements, but from my personal experience these are the basics that all centers require.

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a citizen of the United States
  • Be a high school graduate or possess the equivalent
  • Not have been convicted or pleaded guilty to or entered a plea of no contest to any felony charge or any violation of any federal or state laws or city ordinances relating to force, violence, theft, dishonesty, gambling, liquor or controlled substances.
  • Not have been released or discharged under any other than an honorable or medical discharge from any of the Armed Forces of the United States.
  • Background Check including Criminal History and Drivers License

Essential Functions:

As with any job there are some traits that will help you succeed in the world of emergency dispatching. These traits can help make the transition into this career easier.

  • Multi-tasking
  • Typing
  • Computer Skills
  • Shift Work including Weekends and Holidays
  • Organizational Skills
  • Accurate & Precise
  • Team Player
  • Tactful & Courteous
  • Working Knowledge of Coverage Area



Your training will be different from agency to agency, but you can expect to become trained and certified in most if not all of the following areas.

  • Emergency telecommunicator certification (ETC):

This is your most basic of classes. While in this class you will learn proper call and radio etiquette. You will learn about call prioritization and the importance of following policies, procedures and protocols. It also stresses the importance of stress release and the different effects stress plays on your body and mind. You will also receive a basic overview of dispatching as a whole from the class and what types of situations you may encounter along the way. There are two companies that I am aware of that offer this certification through either course work that you can sign up for yourself, or through a shorter instructor based class that many who have already been hired by a center attend. The two companies that offer such certification are NAED and APCO, both websites are listed at the right.

  • Emergency medical dispatch certification (EMD):

Emergency medical dispatch is the certification that teaches you the protocol and procedures for medical calls. It walks you through the steps with the caller and allows you to gives you guidance on giving pre-arrival instructions. Some agencies use this and some don't. From what I could see in agencies that do use pre-arrival instructions you are guided step by step either through a flip book located at your work station or by a computer walk-through built into your CAD program. This course is also offered by the NAED and APCO and can be located through the links in the capsule above.

  • National Crime Information Center certification (NCIC):

This is the certification where you get to learn how to enter and run wanted people, stolen cars, and a whole list of other things. You will most likely do this by taking training at your state level center. In Tennessee, starting in 2013 you will train under your Terminal Agency Coordinator (T.A.C) and once proficient with them you will go for 2 days of training at Tennessee Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Nashville. I really enjoyed this class but they throw a lot of information at you in those 2 days. This certification has to be renewed every 2 years to stay current and every center that uses this system must have a certified operator on duty at all times. The link to the right will take you to the FBI - NCIC page that can explain more in depth what the system is all about.

  • CPR certification:

This one is right there with EMD, you must have a basic knowledge of CPR to understand what you are doing. Even though you are in a call center you are still a part of an emergency response team and most agencies will require you to have this basic knowledge. These classes are taught by local fire departments, rescue squads, ambulance services or even hospitals. Check around your local area for an instructor near you to get a head start on this one.

  • Incident Command System certification (ICS/NIMS):

After 9/11 the government decided to develop a standard for response to major incidents. This would be to have a more organized response and to be able to account for the personnel and the supplies for a major incident. These same policies are being implemented in local responses as well and as a 911 dispatcher your the initial incident commander on any emergency. That role changes once a first responder gets to the scene but you still play an important role in the incident. These classes will help you understand your responsibilities and why this system has been implemented. There are several different course to take and all are offered online through FEMA. The link to the right will take you to the online testing for these certificates.

These are just a few of the basic things you will cover in your training, depending on the location of employment, Some of these you can take before even being hired by a center. It could never hurt to have all you can before you go to the interview.

How To Get Your Foot In The Door:

Well now that I have covered a lot of the technical side of how to become a dispatcher, I will share a few tips you can use to get your foot in the door. If you think this is where you want to be, see about talking to your local dispatchers and get a feel for what they really do. A lot of people hear stories about what goes on but Joe Public doesn't always get a full grasp of daily activities in the center. Once you get to know a bit about the job and your desire to join a dispatch center grows, call your local center and ask about the possibility of a sit along. Trust me it will help a lot because if you come in not knowing what to expect the first time in a center can be overwhelming. Look into some college classes that add to your communications abilities, I mean you're in a customer service business and you will need to know how to communicate with people effectively. If certificate classes are offered in your area or online to help get you ahead in the game take them. Once you have done these things you will have a good grasp on your desired career path and know a bit about what your jumping into. Lastly start placing applications to places you wish to work, and you can wait for replies while your building up your resume.

What Can You Expect?

If you wonder what a typical day in a dispatch center is like, the answer is pretty simple. Each day is a new chance to experience something new, or something you thought you would never hear or see in your life. You handle calls from all walks of life and of every nature. You have to have nerves of steel because you never know what that next phone call will be. You have to be quick on your feet because things can change at the drop of a hat, a "routine" call can quickly go south and you have to be able to adjust on the fly. You deal with people at their worst and you must always remember that no matter how minor you may think something is, it is always important to the person on the other end of the line. If this still sounds like something that interests you, then think about speaking to your local agency about the possibility of doing a sit along and see where this career can take you. If you feel your ready to become a 911 dispatcher, the links to the right will take you to 911 dispatcher job listings.

What is your reason:

What draws you to the field of 911 dispatch?

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Feed Back

If you have any questions about being a 911 dispatcher or feel that there is something else that you would like to have covered please feel free to ask or post them below.


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    • tenordj profile image

      Jason 3 years ago from Jamestown TN

      Thank you and thank you for pointing that out. I have fixed most of the problems you mentioned and I hope that it makes the Hub more enjoyable for readers.

    • profile image

      Linda Plane 4 years ago

      Very informative article. The use of the word, "your", however, is incorrect in several sentences. For instance, it should read, " could be someone who is tired of life and (you're) their last shot..." Sorry, but that word kept jumping out at me while reading what otherwise was a great article.

    • N.E. Wright profile image

      N.E. Wright 6 years ago from Bronx, NY

      No problem.

      Take Care,


    • tenordj profile image

      Jason 6 years ago from Jamestown TN

      Thank you N.E.Wright I appreciate the positive feedback and am glad to help anyone who has a genuine intrest in this field

    • N.E. Wright profile image

      N.E. Wright 6 years ago from Bronx, NY

      Hi Tenordj,

      I have been meaning to read this from the time I first joined you. Sorry I took so long.

      This is a very well written and informative article.

      I am going to be sharing it, and placing it on my Face-Book page.

      Thank you so much for sharing, because people need hope of employment in this economy.

      Take Care,