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Public Safety Telecommunicators

Career, Salary and Education Information

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

Work Environment: Public safety telecommunicators work in emergency communication centers called public safety answering points (PSAPs). These workers usually have shifts that include evenings, weekends, and holidays to provide round-the-clock coverage. The pressure to respond quickly and calmly in alarming situations may be stressful.

How to Become One: 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.

Salary: The median annual wage for public safety telecommunicators is $46,670.

Job Outlook: Employment of public safety telecommunicators is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of public safety telecommunicators with similar occupations.

What Public Safety Telecommunicators Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Public Safety Telecommunicators

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 for Public Safety Telecommunicators[About this section] [To Top]

Public safety telecommunicators hold about 95,400 jobs. The largest employers of public safety telecommunicators are as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 79%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 6%
Ambulance services 6%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 3%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 2%

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.

How to Become a Public Safety Telecommunicator[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Public Safety Telecommunicators near you!

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.

Education for Public Safety Telecommunicators

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

Public Safety Telecommunicator Training

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 for Public Safety Telecommunicators

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.

Advancement for Public Safety Telecommunicators

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.

Important Qualities for Public Safety Telecommunicators

Ability to multitask. Public safety telecommunicators must stay calm in order to simultaneously answer calls, collect vital information, coordinate responders, monitor multiple displays, and use a variety of equipment.

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

Decision-making skills. When people call for help, public safety telecommunicators must be able to determine the response dictated by procedures and to work efficiently with the assisting emergency departments.

Empathy. Public safety telecommunicators must be willing to help a range of callers with varying needs. They must be calm, polite, and sympathetic, while also collecting relevant information quickly.

Listening skills. Public safety telecommunicators must listen carefully to collect relevant details, even though some callers might have trouble speaking because of anxiety or stress.

Typing skills. Public safety telecommunicators enter the details of calls into computers; typing speed and accuracy are essential when responding to emergencies.

Public Safety Telecommunicator Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for public safety telecommunicators is $46,670. 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.

The median annual wages for public safety telecommunicators in the top industries in which they work are 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 for Public Safety Telecommunicators[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of public safety telecommunicators is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 9,800 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.

Employment of Public Safety Telecommunicators

Although state and local government budget constraints may limit the number of public safety telecommunicators hired in the coming decade, population growth and the commensurate increase in 9-1-1 call volume is expected to increase employment of these workers.

Employment projections data for Public Safety Telecommunicators, 2020-30
Occupational Title Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30
Percent Numeric
Public safety telecommunicators 95,400 103,200 8 7,800


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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