Within emergency agencies including police, fire and EMS, there are few professionals who perform as vital a role as the 911 operator. These highly trained and eminently qualified professionals are the first person that most people in an emergency speak with and they must often perform a variety of supporting roles for people in distress. They must initially calm people who are injured, distraught or scared, and then extract the nature of the emergency along with key personal information. While doing this, 911 operators must alert the appropriate authorities to respond to the emergency.
911 operators must handle many types of emergencies including robberies, suicide attempts, car accidents, and medical emergencies. Throughout these stressful situations, 911 operators must exhibit calm so as to be able to effectively manage the situation. In many cases, dispatchers must collect information about the situation from the caller and implement a strategy to preserve life or safety through verbal communication. This often requires some experience with life-saving medical procedures like CPR or first aid.
911 Operator Job Description
911 operator jobs require professionals who are able to perform the following activities:
- Collect personal and location information from callers
- Dispatch police, fire or medical units to the site of the emergency
- Retrieve information about caller or criminal perpetrators from digital records
- Instruct callers on life-saving procedures
- Prioritize calls according to importance
- Provide available information to emergency responders
- Provide emotional reassurance to the distraught or suicidal
How to Become a 911 Operator
Due to the heavy demands on 911 operators, many organizations have implemented a rigorous selection process that identifies candidates who function well under intense pressure. There is usually a thorough screening examination that assesses the candidate’s competencies in oral communication, administrative duties and data recall. Many of the clerical skills like typing and computer application management are best acquired through vocational training or a college education.
Most police or governmental employers require that candidates possess the following qualifications:
- U.S. citizenship
- High school diploma or GED
- At least 18 years of age
- No felony convictions
Candidates will be thoroughly investigated to ensure they have no disqualifying factors like financial insolvency, domestic violence or substance abuse. Some jurisdictions mandate a medical and psychological evaluation, as well as a polygraph exam.
Once hired, new 911 operators may undergo extensive training which involves intimate knowledge of police, fire and medical operations and terminology. This training will usually provide enhanced proficiencies in
- Crisis intervention
- Active listening
- Dispatch procedures
- Stress recognition and mitigation
- Conflict resolution
- Emergency response decision making
- Suicide prevention
- Hostage situations
Trainees are usually required to pass a comprehensive examination to receive operator certification. Once the training period is completed, new operators are closely supervised during the probationary period which may last several months.
911 Operator Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 911 operators received average annual salaries of $35,370 in 2010. There were 100,100 operators employed in 2010 and another 11,700 are expected to be added by 2020, or another 12 percent of the workforce.