17 Things You Need to Know about Emergency Dispatchers

Written by KOVA Corp

They’re the first people we call in an emergency-- our lifeline between disaster and the help we need. Emergency dispatchers are a crucial part of public safety for a myriad of reasons. They patiently talk our parents and grandparents through the tense and sometimes painful moments after a fall until help arrives. They tell police officers where to find us during threatening times like armed burglaries and abusive situations. Moreover, they’re always there when we need them.

Although they play such an important role in our lives, most of us don’t know very much about dispatchers besides the fact that they’re the voices on the other end of a 911 call. In reality, they’re so much more than call receivers. If you’re curious about what it really means to be a dispatcher, check out these 17 facts that will make you thankful for their service.

  1. They have one of the most stressful jobs in America.

    According to an article in Business Insider, emergency dispatchers routinely endure some of the most nerve-wrenching shifts in the country. On average, police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers score a 98.5 out of 100 for stress tolerance on the O*NET stress factor scoring system where higher numbers correlate with higher stress levels. In addition, the average dispatcher has a time pressure score of 68.3 and a consequence of error score of 86. For a profession that stands between life and death for many people, these scores are not surprising.

  1. Their jobs are emotionally taxing.

    Because dispatchers are the lifeline between people in dangerous situations and the help they need, they often have to talk people through some tense and fear-stricken moments. Despite the panic ringing through the lines, dispatchers know they have to remain calm even in the most dire situations. Needless to say, constant exposure to the fear and crises of others is distressing to compassionate people, and dispatchers do their work in the midst of it all.

  1. They must be able to respond to every type of call.

    There are many types of emergencies, and dispatchers are trained to respond to all of them. From broken bones to burning buildings to hostage situations, every emergency dispatcher must know how to respond to each of them quickly and accurately, sending out the proper code to the appropriate first responders. This, of course, takes an impressive amount of mental clarity and focus.

  1. They listen to life’s worst moments - all day.

    Some 911 calls involve minor cuts and fender benders, but others are far more serious. Perhaps even dozens of times per day, dispatchers respond to calls of people minutes away from death or from family member fearing the worst for an unresponsive loved one. Although such calls can be emotionally jarring, dispatchers must remain calm and level headed in spite of the crisis on the other end of the line.

  1. More than likely, they work when you’re asleep.

    Emergencies don’t just operate from 9 to 5, and neither do dispatchers. If you know anyone who is a dispatcher, chances are that they’re getting home from their shift as you’re brewing your morning coffee. Just like police officers, firefighters, and ER nurses and doctors, dispatchers routinely stay up all night to answer emergency calls.

  1. They have to think at light speed.

    When an emergency situation arises, dispatchers have to know what to do based on the caller’s information at any given moment. Oftentimes, the caller with the emergency is frantic, disoriented, or unable to communicate clearly for a number of reasons, so the dispatcher must quickly construct a plan of action based on fragmented information he or she is being given on the other end. However, dispatchers are trained to accurately instruct the callers as to what they should do in the given situation as well as contact the proper response teams and give them the essential details. Quick-thinking is a must for potentially life-saving scenarios.

  1. They don’t get paid much.

    For all the hard work that they do to get us the help we need when we need it most, did you know that on average, dispatchers receive only around $36,000 annually? Many dispatchers work 12-hour shifts seven days per week - that’s 84 hours, and they may be during night shifts. Since dispatcher jobs typically require no college degree and are not considered specializations, the relatively low salary may not be surprising to most. Yet, a dispatcher serves one of the most important roles in the emergency response system.

  1. You need to tell them exactly where you are.

    Although technology has advanced through GPS service and other call center innovations, one of the most important parts of communication between a caller and a dispatcher is location. Although they can technically trace the call, giving your exact location information will speed up the process drastically, possibly making a lifesaving difference for you or whoever is in need of immediate aid. The faster they can know where you are, the faster help can come.

  1. You need to listen to their instructions.

    Another critical component of 911 calls is the dispatcher's instructions to the caller. Although they can’t be there physically when disaster strikes, they are trained in discerning what to do when that happens. As the caller, you will most likely be their “eyes and ears” on the other end of the line, and doing exactly as they tell you to do in an emergency could save a life. Trust them and do as they instruct until help arrives. In some cases, dispatchers have helped people navigate through severe medical emergencies and even dangerous situations involving hostage crises and armed robberies.

  1. They are experts at keeping calm and keeping you calm.

    How are dispatchers able to take control of an emergency situation over the phone? The key is in remaining calm at all times. For one thing, most callers are in a panic when they dial 911. In addition, it is true that some calls can be rather jarring even for the dispatcher depending on the situation at hand. For this very reason, dispatchers are trained to remain exceptionally calm under all this pressure in order to help facilitate the best outcome for those suffering emergencies. Not only does remaining calm give them a clear head to give the proper instructions, make the right transfers, and relay the right information to get help on the way, but they also calm the callers down, which is equally important in tense situations.

  1. They cover for each other no matter what.

    On very rare occasions, there are times when not every dispatcher can make it to his or her station due to sickness, car trouble, or perhaps even an emergency of their own. When this happens, however, someone always pitches in to fill their space for as long as needed. Quite often, dispatchers will have to extend their already long shifts in order to cover for others when this happens. But there’s no room for grumbling and complaining in these situations, and everyone on a dispatch unit knows this very well. In short, they do whatever it takes to make sure that someone is always at the end of the line when you need them.

  1. They are a family.

    While working under intense pressure in such close proximity to one another may become aggravating at times, to say the least, at the end of the day, dispatchers as a whole are strongly united by the common bond of their life-saving profession and care for those in need. Teamwork is absolutely critical in a dispatcher’s work environment, and by working together to continue saving countless lives seven days a week, most dispatchers say they wouldn’t trade this camaraderie and collective sense of love and selflessness for anything in the world.

  1. They care about you.

    Who would work 12-plus hour shifts, every day of the week, birthdays and holidays, if they didn’t care about what they were really doing? Dispatchers are there because they care. They know that they’re a crucial asset to public safety, and they won’t stop at anything until help arrives at your location, wherever you are. In fact, many dispatchers end up turning what they thought would be a temporary job in the emergency call center into an entire career for the sheer reward of helping save live every day.

  1. They stay on the line for as long as you need them to.

    A dispatcher’s work is never done until the necessary personnel arrives on the scene. Dispatchers know that they are in most cases the only qualified voice around to give proper instructions in emergency situations, and they won’t even think about hanging up until they know that you or the person on whose behalf you’re calling is being taken care of by professionals.

  1. You should only call 911 for actual emergencies.

    It seems like common sense, but you may be surprised at some of the things that dispatchers are told are “emergencies” by callers. Did McDonald’s get your order wrong? Don’t call 911. Did a four wheeler speed across your front lawn at night, leaving two-inch-deep tire tracks all over the yard? Still not a 911 emergency. However, if you or someone around you is hurt enough to go to the ER, you sense some suspicious and dangerous activity around you, there is a break-in, or something is on fire that shouldn’t be, then call 911. Emergency dispatchers handle real emergencies, and the more non-emergency calls they receive, chances are that you could be taking valuable time away from those in true emergencies. On that note, do save your thank you or appreciation letters for the mail or the internet.

  1. Emergency dispatchers can actually suffer from PTSD.

    Even if they’re not physically witnessing a crisis as it unfolds, emergency dispatchers are in the midst of it nonetheless when they stay on the line. Quite often, they listen to horrors unfold on the other end multiple times a day, whereas many people have never experienced anything close to the real life situations dispatchers handle on a daily basis. To add to the stress of being present within each situation, the dispatcher on the line never knows the outcome of the situation, unless perhaps it appears on the news. Sadly, few people truly recognize the emotional toll answering crisis after crisis has on people serving in this line of work, and many of them end up with PTSD, diagnosed and undiagnosed.

  1. Dispatchers need to learn new technology quickly.

    Last but not least, in the ever-changing world of call center technology, dispatchers must always be on top of their game each time a new system is implemented. New developments in caller ID, interoperability networks, advance tracking systems, and other technological innovations designed to improve and speed up communication on all fronts are becoming increasingly more common. Thus, dispatchers must learn - and learn quickly - how to integrate these new programs into their daily work routines and help others along in the process.

Despite their long hours, endless pressures, and nerves of steel when it comes to handling emergencies, dispatchers are still compassionate and have some of the biggest hearts.  The next time you see a dispatcher, be kind to them and thank them for everything they do to keep you and your community safe.

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