You might know the job description of a police, fire, and ambulance dispatcher by another name, the 911 operator. You know, the 911 operator is who you call when your house is on fire or you drove too fast and hit a tree or when you’re drunk and meant to call 411.
The job of 911 operator or dispatcher means saving lives of callers and assisting the work of police officers and fire fighters. It’s a sometimes high-stress job where a split-second lapse in judgment or wrong decision or confusion or could lead to much bigger trouble for everyone.
Dispatch operators deal with extremely stressed out people often begging for help during an emergency. And if you make a mistake and somehow guide emergency personnel to the wrong location, prolonged suffering and death could result. But it can also be highly rewarding. Thus, the job can be highly stressful
But it can be rewarding, too. Loretta McKinney says she chose to become a 911 operator after being laid off from her teaching job in Orange County because she can empathize and make someone feel at ease. “Even after doing this job for six years, I still find that I learn something new every day and still love what I do,” says the City of Los Angeles 911 operator. “The most interesting part of the job is the crazy things people will say or report to 911. You have no idea how many people think their neighbor is a serial killer.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that employment of 911 operators is expected to grow 18 percent from 2008 to 2018, faster than the average for all occupations.
The 911 operators in the Southern California area earned a median wage of $48,800 in 2009. Operators usually have a high school degree and develop the necessary skills in three to six months of on-the-job training.
While many people make amusing calls to the 911 operator, for the most part this job is very serious, and it’s not for the faint of heart. While you might be sitting at a desk for eight hours a day talking on the phone, this gig requires a lot of commitment and will power.
A 911 operator must be able to receive emergency and non-emergency calls and messages from the public, respond to them appropriately. An operator then must efficiently dispatch to the correct address the agencies who can provide assistance.
During busy periods, operators decide how to prioritize calls and dispatches based on their importance. They have to know how to operate on police radio frequencies and have a thorough knowledge of police codes in order to monitor and coordinate various police, fire, and rescue activities.
While an event is ongoing, the operator maintains knowledge of the location and the status of personnel responding from multiple agencies. The operator creates accurate logs of all public communications that have been undertaken and must be able to provide information for investigative purposes by making use of data and information available in sensitive security databases.
Further, 911 operators maintain files and records for cases that require assistance in the future. And they are responsible for maintaining confidentiality of all the information dealt with.
Are you still interested in this life-saving job? If so, the good news is that dispatch centers all over are hiring operators. Dispatch Magazine On-line, a trade publication for 911 operators, reports, “The nation’s public safety communications centers have been facing a staffing shortage for the last 10 years, the result of an overall increase in staffing, competition with the private sector offering similar jobs for more money, and a large turn-over rate of existing employees. As a result, almost every comm center in America is looking for qualified candidates, without experience, whom they will train to perform the necessary tasks.”
Dispatch Magazine On-line posts jobs listings at