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Find Dispatcher Career Schools
Dispatcher Licensing and Career Certifications
While there are many dispatcher jobs that only require a high school diploma, the most serious
jobs will likely have more extensive requirements that will certainly involve training and
testing. A number of professions use dispatchers. Examples include emergency, police, fire and
medical services. Many jobs involve specialization such as suicide prevention
or dealing with threats. Many dispatchers have access to government databases. Depending
on the level of resoonsibility, some dispatcher jobs may require certification from a state,
county or local agency.
Dispatchers schedule and dispatch workers, equipment, or service vehicles to carry materials or passengers. S
ome dispatchers take calls for taxi companies, for example, or for police or ambulance assistance. They keep
records, logs, and schedules of the calls that they receive and of the transportation vehicles that they
monitor and control. In fact, they usually prepare a detailed report on all activities occurring during
their shifts. Many dispatchers employ computer-aided dispatch systems to accomplish these tasks.
All dispatchers are assigned a specific territory and have responsibility for all communications
within that area. Many work in teams, especially dispatchers in large communications centers or companies.
The work of dispatchers varies greatly, depending on the industry in which they work.
Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers, also called public safety dispatchers or 911 operators,
monitor the location of emergency services personnel from one or all of the jurisdiction’s emergency
services departments. These workers dispatch the appropriate type and number of units in response to
calls for assistance. Dispatchers, or call takers, often are the first people the public contacts when
emergency assistance is required. If certified for emergency medical services, the dispatcher may provide
medical instruction to those on the scene of the emergency until the medical staff arrives.
Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers work in a variety of settings e.g.,a police station,
a fire station, a hospital, or, increasingly, a centralized communications center. In some areas,
one of the major departments serves as the communications center. In these situations, all emergency
calls go to that department, where a dispatcher handles their calls and screens the others before transferring
them to the appropriate service.
When handling calls, dispatchers question each caller carefully to determine the type, seriousness, and location
of the emergency. The information obtained is posted either electronically by computer or, with decreasing
frequency, by hand. The dispatcher then quickly decides the priority of the incident, the kind and number of units
needed, and the location of the closest and most suitable units available. When appropriate, dispatchers stay in close
contact with other service providers—for example, a police dispatcher would monitor the response of the fire
department when there is a major fire. In a medical emergency, dispatchers keep in close touch not only with the
dispatched units, but also with the caller. They may give extensive first-aid instructions before the emergency
personnel arrive, while the caller is waiting for the ambulance. Dispatchers continuously give updates on the patient’s
condition to the ambulance personnel and often serve as a link between the medical staff in a hospital and the emergency
medical technicians in the ambulance.
Other dispatchers coordinate deliveries, service calls, and related activities for a variety of firms. Truck dispatchers,
who work for local and long-distance trucking companies, coordinate the movement of trucks and freight between cities.
These dispatchers direct the pickup and delivery activities of drivers, receive customers’ requests for the pickup and
delivery of freight, consolidate freight orders into truckloads for specific destinations, assign drivers and trucks,
and draw up routes and pickup and delivery schedules. Bus dispatchers make sure that local and long-distance buses stay
on schedule. They handle all problems that may disrupt service, and they dispatch other buses or arrange for repairs in
order to restore service and schedules. Train dispatchers ensure the timely and efficient movement of trains according
to orders and schedules. They must be aware of track switch positions, track maintenance areas, and the location of other
trains running on the track. Taxicab dispatchers, or starters, dispatch taxis in response to requests for service and keep
logs on all road service calls. Tow-truck dispatchers take calls for emergency road service. They relay the nature of the
problem to a nearby service station or a tow-truck service and see to it that the road service is completed.
Gas and water service dispatchers monitor gaslines and water mains, and send out service trucks and crews to take care of
The work of dispatchers can be very hectic when many calls come in at the same time. The job of public safety dispatchers
is particularly stressful because a slow or an improper response to a call can result in serious injury or further harm.
Also, callers who are anxious or afraid may become excited and be unable to provide needed information; some may even become
abusive. Despite provocations, dispatchers must remain calm, objective, and in control of the situation.
Dispatchers sit for long periods, using telephones, computers, and two-way radios. Much of their time is spent at video
display terminals, viewing monitors and observing traffic patterns. As a result of working for long stretches with computers
and other electronic equipment, dispatchers can experience significant eyestrain and back discomfort. Generally, dispatchers
work a 40-hour week; however, rotating shifts and compressed work schedules are common. Alternative work schedules are necessary
to accommodate evening, weekend, and holiday work and 24-hour-per-day, 7-day-per-week operations.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Dispatchers generally are entry-level workers who are trained on the job and need no more than a high school diploma.
Many States require specific types of training or certification.
Education and training
Workers usually develop the necessary skills on the job. This informal training lasts from several days to a few months, depending
on the complexity of the job. While working with an experienced dispatcher, new employees monitor calls and learn how to operate a
variety of communications equipment, including telephones, radios, and various wireless devices. As trainees gain confidence, they
begin to handle calls themselves. In smaller operations, dispatchers sometimes act as customer service representatives, processing orders.
Many public safety dispatchers also participate in structured training programs sponsored by their employer. Increasingly, public safety
dispatchers receive training in stress and crisis management as well as in family counseling. This training helps them to provide effective
services to others; and, at the same time, it helps them manage the stress involved in their work.
Many States require specific types of training or certification from a professional association. Certification often requires several months
in a classroom for instruction in computer-assisted dispatching and other emerging technologies as well as radio dispatching and stress
State or local government civil service regulations usually govern police, fire, and emergency medical dispatching jobs. Candidates for these
positions may have to pass written, oral, and performance tests. Also, they may be asked to attend training classes in order to qualify for
advancement. Communication skills and the ability to work under pressure are important personal qualities for dispatchers. Residency in the
city or county of employment frequently is required for public safety dispatchers. Dispatchers in transportation industries must be able to deal
with sudden influxes of shipments and disruptions of shipping schedules caused by bad weather, road construction, or accidents.
Certification and advancement
Although there are no mandatory licensing requirements, some States require that public safety dispatchers possess a certificate to work on a
State network, such as the Police Information Network. Many dispatchers participate in these programs in order to improve their prospects for career advancement.
Dispatchers who work for private firms, which usually are small, will find few opportunities for advancement. In contrast, public safety dispatchers may
become a shift or divisional supervisor or chief of communications, or they may move to higher paying administrative jobs. Some become police officers or fire fighters.
According to the US Department of Labor, dispatchers held 289,000 jobs in May of 2006. About 34 percent were police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers, almost all of whom
worked for State and local governments—primarily local police and fire departments. About 28 percent of all dispatchers worked in the transportation and warehousing
industry, and the rest worked in a wide variety of mainly service-providing industries. Although dispatching jobs are found throughout the country,
most dispatchers work in urban areas, where large communications centers and businesses are located.
Employment of dispatchers is expected to grow more slowly than average. In addition to those positions resulting from job growth, many openings will arise from the need
to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Employment of dispatchers is expected to increase 6 percent over the 2006-16 decade, more
slowly than the average for all occupations. Population growth and economic expansion are expected to spur employment growth for all types of dispatchers. The growing
and aging population will increase demand for emergency services and stimulate employment growth of police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers. In addition to openings due
to growth, job openings will result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Many districts are consolidating their
communications centers into a shared area-wide facility. As the equipment becomes more complex, individuals with computer skills and experience will have a greater
opportunity for employment as public safety dispatchers. Employment of some dispatchers is more adversely affected by economic downturns than employment of other dispatchers.
For example, when economic activity falls, demand for transportation services declines. As a result, taxicab, train, and truck dispatchers may experience layoffs or a
shortened workweek, and jobseekers may have some difficulty finding entry-level jobs. Employment of tow-truck dispatchers, by contrast, is seldom affected by
general economic conditions, because of the emergency nature of their business. Likewise, public safety dispatchers are unlikely to be affected by economic downturns.