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What Public Safety Telecommunicators Do About this section

Public safety telecommunicators
Public safety telecommunicators monitor and track the status of police, fire, and ambulance units.

Public safety telecommunicators, including 911 operators and fire dispatchers, answer emergency and nonemergency calls and provide resources to assist those in need.

Duties

Public safety telecommunicators typically do the following:

  • Answer 9-1-1 emergency and nonemergency requests from different sources, such as phone calls, text messages, social media, and alarm systems
  • Determine the type of emergency and its location and decide the appropriate response based on agency procedures
  • Relay information to the appropriate first-responder agency
  • Coordinate the dispatch of emergency response personnel
  • Give instructions to the person in need before emergency services arrive
  • Monitor and track the status of police, fire, and ambulance units
  • Synchronize responses with other area communication centers
  • Keep detailed records of calls

Public safety telecommunicators answer requests from people who need help. Depending on the situation, these workers may contact police, firefighters, emergency services, or a combination of the three. Telecommunicators take both emergency and nonemergency requests.

Public safety telecommunicators must stay calm while collecting vital information from callers to determine the severity and location of a situation. They also must select and clear a radio channel to establish a stable connection with the appropriate first-responder agency, such as the police or fire department. Telecommunicators then monitor that channel to ensure that resources are provided safely and efficiently.

Public safety telecommunicators use computers to log important facts, such as the nature of the incident and the caller’s name. These computer systems screen calls to identify the delivery method, such as phone, text, or video. Telecommunicators then gather information about the location of the person in need.

Public safety telecommunicators are trained to provide instruction over the phone. They often must guide callers on what to do before responders arrive. For example, they might help the caller provide first aid at the scene until emergency medical services arrive. At other times, telecommunicators may advise callers on how to remain safe while waiting for assistance.

Work Environment About this section

Public safety telecommunicators
Public safety telecommunicators typically work in communication centers, often called public safety answering points (PSAPs).

Public safety telecommunicators held about 95,400 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of public safety telecommunicators were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 79%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 6
Ambulance services 6
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 3
Hospitals; state, local, and private 2

Public safety telecommunicators typically work in communication centers, often called public safety answering points (PSAPs). Some work for unified communication centers, where they answer calls for all types of emergency services, while others work specifically for police or fire departments.

Work as a public safety telecommunicator may be stressful. These workers often have long shifts, take many calls, and deal with troubling situations. Some calls require them to assist people who are in life-threatening situations, and the pressure to respond quickly and calmly may be demanding.

Work Schedules

Most public safety telecommunicators work full time, often in 8- to 12-hour shifts.

Because emergencies happen at any time, public safety telecommunicators are needed to staff PSAPs around the clock. They may be required to work shifts that are outside standard business hours, such as evenings, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Public Safety Telecommunicator About this section

Public safety telecommunicators
Public safety telecommunicators usually must pass a typing test.

Public safety telecommunicators typically need a high school diploma to enter the occupation and then are trained on the job. Many states and localities require these workers to become certified.

In addition, candidates usually must pass an exam and a typing test. In some instances, candidates may need to pass a background check, lie detector and drug tests, and tests for hearing and vision.

The ability to communicate in another language, such as Spanish or American Sign Language, may be helpful.

Education

Public safety telecommunicators typically need a high school diploma to enter the occupation.

Training

Public safety telecommunicators typically receive training on the job. Training requirements and length of training vary by state and locality.

For example, some states require 40 or more hours of training, and others require continuing education every 2 to 3 years. Still other states do not mandate any specific training, leaving individual localities and agencies to structure their own requirements and conduct their own courses.

Training programs typically involve an instructional course and may include on-the-job demonstrations. Training may be followed by a probationary period of about 1 year. However, the period may vary by agency, as there is no national standard governing training or probation.

Training covers a variety of topics, such as local geography, agency protocols, and standard procedures. Public safety telecommunicators learn how to use equipment such as computer-aided dispatch systems, which consist of several monitors that may display call information, maps, and video. They also may receive training to prepare for high-risk incidents, such as child abductions and suicidal callers.

Some agencies have their own training programs for public safety telecommunicators; others use training from separate associations. Agencies often use standards from the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO International), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), and the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) as a guideline for their own training programs.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states and localities require public safety telecommunicators to be certified. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) provides a list of states requiring training and certification. One certification is the Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) certification, which enables dispatchers to give medical assistance over the phone.

Public safety telecommunicators may choose to pursue additional certifications, such as the National Emergency Number Association’s Emergency Number Professional (ENP) certification or APCO’s Registered Public-Safety Leader (RPL) certification, which demonstrate their leadership skills and knowledge.

Advancement

Training and additional certifications may help public safety telecommunicators become senior dispatchers or supervisors. Additional education and related work experience may be helpful in advancing to management-level positions.

Important Qualities

Ability to multitask. Public safety telecommunicators must stay calm in order to simultaneously answer calls, collect vital information, coordinate responders, monitor multiple displays, and use a variety of equipment.

Communication skills. Public safety telecommunicators work with law enforcement, emergency response teams, and civilians. They must be able to communicate the nature of an emergency effectively and to coordinate the appropriate response.

Decision-making skills. When people call for help, public safety telecommunicators must be able to determine the response dictated by procedures and to work efficiently with the assisting emergency departments.

Empathy. Public safety telecommunicators must be willing to help a range of callers with varying needs. They must be calm, polite, and sympathetic, while also collecting relevant information quickly.

Listening skills. Public safety telecommunicators must listen carefully to collect relevant details, even though some callers might have trouble speaking because of anxiety or stress.

Typing skills. Public safety telecommunicators enter the details of calls into computers; typing speed and accuracy are essential when responding to emergencies.

Pay About this section

Public Safety Telecommunicators

Median annual wages, May 2021

Public safety telecommunicators

$46,670

Total, all occupations

$45,760

Material recording, scheduling, dispatching, and distributing workers

$42,030

 

The median annual wage for public safety telecommunicators was $46,670 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,340, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $63,940.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for public safety telecommunicators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals $47,940
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 46,970
Hospitals; state, local, and private 38,250
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 38,180
Ambulance services 37,080

Most public safety telecommunicators work full time, often in 8- to 12-hour shifts.

Because emergencies happen at any time, public safety telecommunicators are needed to staff PSAPs around the clock. They may be required to work shifts that are outside standard business hours, such as evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Job Outlook About this section

Public Safety Telecommunicators

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Public safety telecommunicators

8%

Total, all occupations

8%

Material recording, scheduling, dispatching, and distributing workers

-2%

 

Employment of public safety telecommunicators is projected to grow 8 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 9,800 openings for public safety telecommunicators are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Although state and local government budget constraints may limit the number of public safety telecommunicators hired in the coming decade, population growth and the commensurate increase in 9-1-1 call volume is expected to increase employment of these workers.

Employment projections data for public safety telecommunicators, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Public safety telecommunicators

43-5031 95,400 103,200 8 7,800 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about public safety telecommunicator training and certification, visit

Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials

International Academies of Emergency Dispatch

International Municipal Signal Association

National Emergency Number Association

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Public Safety Telecommunicators

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Public Safety Telecommunicators

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