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


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

Public safety telecommunicators held about 99,500 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of public safety telecommunicators were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 81%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 6
Ambulance services 5
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private             3
Hospitals; state, local, and private 3

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.

Education and Training

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.


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


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.


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.

Personality and Interests

Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers typically have an interest in the Building, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a police, fire, and ambulance dispatcher, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Ability to multitask. Responding to an emergency over the phone can be stressful. Dispatchers must stay calm to simultaneously answer calls, collect vital information, coordinate responders, use mapping software and camera feeds, and assist callers.

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

Decision-making skills. Dispatchers must be able to choose wisely between tasks that are competing for their attention. They must be able to quickly determine the appropriate action when people call for help.

Empathy. People who call 9-1-1 are often in distress. Dispatchers must be willing and able to help callers with a wide range of needs. They must be calm, polite, and sympathetic, while also quickly getting information.

Listening skills. When answering an emergency call or handling radio communications, a dispatcher must listen carefully. Some callers might have trouble speaking because of anxiety or stress.


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

Employment of public safety telecommunicators is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 10,900 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. 


State and local government budget constraints may limit the number of public safety telecommunicators hired over the projections decade. However, population growth and the commensurate increase in 9-1-1 call volume is expected to create demand for these workers.

For More Information


Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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This information is taken directly from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truity does not editorialize the information, including changing information that our readers believe is inaccurate, because we consider the BLS to be the authority on occupational information. However, if you would like to correct a typo or other technical error, you can reach us at

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There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. On this site, you can take the Career Personality Profiler assessment, the Holland Code assessment, or the Photo Career Quiz.

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