Monday, March 25, 2013

It's An Emergency! 911 Dispatchers

How does a person become that voice on the other end of the phone when someone calls 911?

Requirements to be an Emergency Dispatcher, the official name for a 911 operator, vary by state, and possibly county to county. In Minnesota, there currently is no standard for every county. There are still some counties that will train people on the job and then allow them to work as dispatchers.

That line of thinking is changing, however. There are a number of police departments that require a technical college certification at the least, and an Associate or Bachelor degree is becoming more common. The 2 or 4 year degrees would be in Communications, Criminal Justice, or Law Enforcement.

Helpful coursework to take in high school would be medical terminology, psychology, keyboarding, social studies; also, people who are highly organized will be better in this career than those who are not.

What qualities are important in a successful Emergency Dispatcher? You must be:

  • A good listener: Someone who understands quickly what is needed, and can also sense other things going on 'in the background.'
  • Empathetic towards people who are in panic mode and be able to calm them: be the sort of person who won't 'catch the panic' of the person calling, so that you can get a clear idea of the emergency and where to send help.
  • Able to detect possible false claims of emergencies
  • Able to multitask: You will likely need to keep the person on the phone while ordering the services needed.
  • A good problem solver: What can you tell the person right away that might help?
  • A good leader: You will be the first contact, so you must be able to tell others what is needed with clarity
  • A fast, accurate, typist
  • Trained well in your dispatcher software-You need to be completely comfortable with the computer program that will get help to the person on the line.
You must have a clear criminal background and be able to pass a polygraph (lie detector) test, pass a drug test, and have good hearing and vision. Be aware that dispatchers are needed 24/7, so you will likely have to work various shifts at various times of day. Knowledge of at least one foreign language could be very helpful, and in the future may be required, especially in larger cities.

You will always be participating in continuing education, from 20 to 30 hours a year, in order to stay on top of situations that may occur as well as new technology to locate and dispatch the proper rescue personnel.

Emergency dispatchers must pass and maintain a certification in CPR. In some cases, even dispatchers must have an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) certification. This is because there are times when dispatchers, as the first contact for help, must 'walk the person through' the steps of CPR and first aid.

The Association of Public Safety Community Officials (APCO)  recommends a 40-hour course as the minimum requirement for an Emergency Dispatcher.

Become a certified First Responder (or go further and become an Emergency Medical Technician) through courses at Anoka Technical College:

The National Academies of Emergency Medical Dispatch is here:

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