Every important job has standards, and that’s certainly true of the positions of emergency dispatcher/telecommunicator and emergency telecommunicator. It’s a critical occupation in which an employee has to work quickly and efficiently with decisive action, because lives are quite literally on the line.

In short, it’s not a job for everyone. But when a public safety organization needs a new emergency dispatcher/telecommunicator/telecommunicator, what do they look for? What are some of the key factors they take into account before hiring?

One good way to find out is simply to look at the employment ads for dispatcher/telecommunicators. In a brief job description, you can generally figure out what it takes to do this job right. Here are some tips from real-life emergency-dispatcher/telecommunicator-wanted ads.

The basic skills

In virtually all cases, an emergency dispatcher/telecommunicator will need a high school diploma or GED. They will need to be proficient in Windows-based computer systems and have effective written and verbal communication skills.

They must be able to use maps and other geographical reference materials to make sure the police or EMS services are getting where they need to go.

The appropriate responses

There are certain situations where an emergency telecommunicator doesn’t just answer urgent calls; they answer non-emergency and administrative calls, as well. In situations like this, a good telecommunicator will know how to respond to each call based on its importance.

Prioritizing calls is a vital skill for someone in this field, and it has to be a skill that one can learn quickly. The training will be provided, obviously, but instinct and common sense play their roles, as well.


A good emergency dispatcher/telecommunicator will become skilled in working with other agencies, citizens or businesses to gather the important information needed or to give the necessary instructions. Teamwork in emergency situations is a must for any dispatcher/telecommunicator.

Training and certification

The diploma or GED you’re required to have is just the beginning of the process. In an emergency dispatcher/telecommunicator position there will be constant training and further education that are required to stay up to date on all the new protocols and technologies that come along. Media and call recorders, Next Generation 911, FirstNet – these are all important public safety technologies that emergency dispatcher/telecommunicators have to be knowledgeable about and comfortable with.

Given the rate at which technology can change over years, months or even weeks, it’s important to be prepared to evolve within the dispatcher/telecommunicator position as needed. It’s not just about the hours you put in taking calls; it’s about what you do in addition to that role that could help you excel.

Medical terminology

Speaking of education, an emergency dispatcher/telecommunicator will very likely need some basic medical knowledge to do their job well. It’s not that you need to have the same amount of information as a doctor or nurse or EMS worker, but there will be some terms and conditions you’ll need to be familiar with to better communicate with people in those fields.

The more a dispatcher/telecommunicator can tell an EMS worker, firefighter or police officer about the condition of someone in danger, the better prepared they’ll be to help in any given emergency situation.


A good emergency dispatch worker is one that’s flexible when it comes to scheduling. This isn’t the typical 9-to-5 job, because life-threatening situations occur 24 hours a day. Anyone who steps into this position is going to need to be able to work nights, weekends and holidays, depending on what the call center requires.

They’ll also need to be on-call for large-scale emergencies and willing to work overtime if it’s needed. It’s certainly not the typical occupation, to be sure, and some sacrifices simply have to be made if one is working in this field.

So why put in all that work? Well, in addition to the higher-than-average pay that a typical emergency dispatcher/telecommunicator can make (averaging around $20 an hour or more, before overtime), this is a chance to truly do some real good in your community.

In what other job can you honestly say that you save lives by answering the phone?

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