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.

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