How to Become a 911 Operator

The role of a 911 Operator might not be a ‘glamorous’ one, but it is an essential part of public safety in every community. The 911 dispatcher serves as the primary liaison between citizens in need and the relevant emergency agencies that can help them. The job is much more challenging than just answering inbound calls. The operator must calmly and quickly assess the situation, determine the nature of the emergency and contact the proper authorities to deal with the situation. The fact that the caller is often frightened, injured or disoriented increases the degree of difficulty.

Further compounding the challenging nature of the job is that there is no ‘typical’ call. The person in need could be reporting anything from a crime in progress to a drug overdose or suicide attempt. In these situations, the response of the public safety operator could mean the difference between life and death. Other situations may require a complex response and interfacing with a variety of public safety agencies. The emergency 911 Operator must stay calm and collected while trying to comfort someone in need on the other end of the line.


The 911 Operator faces a constantly changing set of situations to respond to but at its essence, the job requires the performance of the following duties. The operator must collect accurate personal and location information from the 911 caller. After that, the 911 Operator must quickly determine the correct course of action and interface with the necessary law enforcement and community safety agencies. In some situations, it is necessary for the 911 Operator to access digitally stored information about the caller and/or criminal suspects.

When multiple calls for emergency response come in simultaneously the 911 Operator must perform ‘triage’ and prioritize them based on urgency. In some cases, they must comfort and instruct the callers about proper first aid procedure. All the while they must make sure that the responders and callers have the right information at the right time. Above all else, they must perform their duties in a calm, collected and systematic manner.


The need for 911 Operators is growing every year meaning that hiring prospects are very good and that the compensation marketplace is very competitive. Currently, over 100,000 emergency call center operators are employed in the United States processing over 200 million 911 calls annually. Future labor market projections suggest that approximately 10,000 new operators need to be hired annually to meet demand with the annual demand continuing to grow in the next couple of decades.

As of 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS) reported that the average 911 Dispatcher makes $36,300 a year. The top 10% can earn over $56,000 a year. It’s important to note that salaries can vary widely based on the specific state or employment jurisdiction. The variation in salary is typically due to the cost of living in a particular city or state. In addition, salary level is also dependent on experience and education.


Due to the challenging nature of the job most states screen applicants thoroughly and meticulously. The successful applicants will then go through an extensive training process. The goal is to select candidates based on job skills like communication ability and data management while identifying those who can perform well in stressful and demanding emergency situations.

Most government agencies have similar basic requirements for potential dispatchers, which includes passing an oral interview, as well as a written test. Typically, employees must be 18 years of age or older, have a high school diploma or equivalent, be a United States citizens and have no prior felony convictions. Additionally, candidates may be screened for other problematic issues such as drug use, history of domestic violence or financial difficulty. Some jurisdictions also require a medical and psychological certification and a polygraph test.

The successful police dispatcher candidate will undergo thorough training in the functions of law enforcement and emergency service agencies. Additional training involves other job skill sets such as organizational skills, stress reduction, and crisis management. There is also training in dealing with emergency situations such as hostage taking and responding to suicidal callers. Once training is complete, some agencies will require that the newly hired 911 Operator pass an examination to earn official certification. Once certified, a 911 Operator’s on job performance will be closely monitored, and they may be subject to a probationary period of a few months.

Public Safety Dispatcher Interview


If you want to pass the dispatcher interview questions you need to make certain that you are physically and mentally prepared. The interview won’t take more than an hour, but a lot of things can and will happen in that time span. For this reason, you need to prepare in advance, otherwise your application might be rejected.

When You Arrive for the Interview

The key to passing begins before the interview as Interview Questions and points out. Make sure that you arrive 15 to 30 minutes early, and don’t forget your manners regardless who you meet there, because the way you act towards these people will be reported back to the panel that will interview you.

It is hard to emphasize how important making a good first impression is, as it is up there with your speech and words. While you’re waiting for your turn, take deep breaths and relax. If you’re still not sure, you should follow this guide at first. Before the interview begins, shake hands with everyone and make eye contact. During the course of the interview, maintain eye contact with whoever is asking questions and address them by their title and last name.

Interview Questions That Might be Asked

In some cases the panel might give you a piece of paper where the questions are written down, in which case you should read each question and answer. If there’s a point you don’t understand, ask the panel what it is about. One of the best ways to answer these questions is to repeat part of the question and share your experience. Here’s an example:

Q: How did you prepare for this job?

A: What I did for my preparation was attending a public safety career class. I also participated in the Citizen’s Academy, and I have worked with various officers as well. These experiences provided me with insights on how police officers from different agencies collaborate and how dispatchers should handle calls.

There are many other questions that may be asked such as the following, so you should prepare for them.

  • Have you faced a challenging situation before? How did you handle it?
  • What are your career accomplishments and awards?
  • How do you assess situations and respond when new data arrives?
  • How does your experience, training or education relate to the job of a police dispatcher?
  • Do you have multitasking capabilities?
  • How well do you handle stress?

Stress Questions

In addition you may be asked stress questions like.

  • What issue would you tackle first if you were President?
  • Tell us a good joke.
  • Would you lie to us?
  • What question were you praying we would not ask?

These are some of the questions that you will be asked, and while there are many ways to answer them, the best method is still the one that Dispatch Online Magazine suggests, which is to be honest. Don’t make something up just to sound impressive, and instead just tell the panel the truth.

Situational Questions

You may also be asked situational questions like the following:

  • How will you work with someone you don’t get along with? One way to answer is to say “I will keep our working relationship on a professional level and I am ready to set aside whatever feelings I have for that person for the betterment of the agency.”
  • Would you inform your superiors if a coworker came to work smelling of alcohol? The answer should be yes, because the rule of law covers everyone, including friends and coworkers.
  • You got a domestic violence call involving a police officer. What will you do? The answer should be to alert the authorities like any other domestic violence incident.

In addition to these questions, you will also be asked how to react to various scenarios, and in many cases there are no right or wrong answers here, and all the panel is interested in is learning how your thought processes work.

Points You Need to Emphasize

There are three things you need to remember: be honest, credible and show confidence, without being arrogant. Furthermore, you won’t just be judged by your answers but the way you conduct yourself. During the interview, you need to emphasize that you are a team player, can get along with other people and can multitask easily. You also need to show the board panel that you can think quickly and make decisions.

Aside from conveying a positive impression and answering questions, you should not hesitate to ask questions. In fact, it’s a good idea to ask questions since it shows that you are interested in the job. Some of the questions that you may want to ask during the course of the interview are the following.

  • What are the priorities of the dispatcher in this agency?
  • What are the biggest challenges that someone in this position will face?
  • What agencies do you interact with and in what ways?
  • What specific qualities are you searching for?

There are a few more things you need to look out for during the interview. For one thing, eye contact has to be maintained during the interview, and second, your appearance has to be professional. You also need to hold your end during the conversation, because poor communication skills won’t help you get hired. In addition to these, you can’t come off sounding like a know-it-all, and instead you must show respect to the people that are interviewing you.

As you can see, learning how to become a police dispatcher is not going to be easy. However, you can give yourself a hand by getting the Dispatcher Interview e-book. With this guide you’ll learn the hidden questions that these board panels ask, how to offer attention grabbing answers and the clue that will tell you what the panel thinks of the answers you gave.