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911 Operator Career Guide

What is a 911 operator?

A 911 operator is someone who answers emergency calls and connects people in need with police, fire, and medical services. They work at emergency call centers, and their job is very important for public safety. These operators quickly figure out what’s happening and decide which emergency services to send. They also give instructions over the phone until help arrives, often helping to save lives or stop situations from getting worse.

Duties and responsibilities

The main job of a 911 operator is to answer emergency calls, figure out what the emergency is, and send the right help, like police, firefighters, or ambulances. They must get and write down important details, like what’s happening and where. Also, they often help callers by giving first aid guidance or safety advice over the phone. They keep in touch with the emergency teams they send out, giving them any new information they need.

Work environment

911 operators usually work in a communications center or dispatch office, surrounded by several computer screens and special communication tools. Their job is often very stressful because they are always dealing with emergencies. It’s important for them to stay calm, clear-headed, and focused, even when things get tough. They need to be great listeners and quick decision-makers. Handling stress and staying emotionally strong is key in this job.

Typical work hours

911 operators work shifts at all hours because emergencies can happen anytime, including at night, on weekends, and during holidays. Depending on the call center, they might work long shifts, like 10 or 12 hours, and then have several days off. The hours are irregular, but the job gives them a chance to really help their community and make a difference in people’s lives.

How to become a 911 operator

To become a 911 operator, follow these steps:

Step 1: Finish high school or get a GED

A background in English, math, and psychology is useful.

Step 2: Meet eligibility requirements

You should be at least 18 years old and pass an operator exam, drug screening, medical exam, and background check.

Step 3: Gain relevant experience

Work in customer service, call centers, or other high-stress communication roles. Experience in emergency services or law enforcement is beneficial.

Step 4: Pass a civil service test

Most operators need to pass this exam, and some places require additional tests like the CritiCall Dispatcher Test.

Step 5: Apply for jobs

Tailor your resume and cover letter to the role, highlighting your ability to manage stress and communicate effectively.

Step 6: Complete training

Once hired, you’ll receive training in areas like telecommunications, CPR, and emergency response.

Step 7: Become certified

Obtain necessary certifications from organizations like International Academics of Emergency Dispatch, APCO, or NENA.

Step 8: Advance your skills with online courses

Consider courses in psychological first aid or stress management to enhance your abilities and stand out.

Remember, specific requirements can vary by location, so it’s important to check the specific needs in your area.

How much do 911 operators make?

The salary of a 911 operator depends on several factors, like where they work, how many people live in that area, how many calls they get, their experience, and any extra skills or certifications they have. Operators in places with a high cost of living or large populations usually make more because they handle more complex and numerous calls.

An operator’s training and experience also play a big role in their pay. Those with advanced certifications or special training, like Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) certification, typically earn more. The type of agency they work for – whether it’s police, fire, medical, or a combination – can influence their salary as well.

Highest paying states

  • California – $68,000
  • Oregon – $65,000
  • Washington – $63,000
  • Alaska – $60,000
  • Nevada – $58,000

Browse 911 operator salary data by market

Types of 911 operators

Police dispatcher

Specializes in law enforcement-related calls. They assess situations, prioritize responses, and dispatch police units as needed.

Fire dispatcher

Handles calls about fires, gathers important information, dispatches fire departments, and sometimes gives safety advice to callers waiting for help.

Emergency medical dispatcher

Deals with medical emergency calls and provides basic medical instructions over the phone, like CPR guidance, childbirth assistance, or bleeding control advice.

Multi-agency dispatcher

Works with all emergency services. They take calls for police, fire, and medical emergencies, assess the situations, and send out the right service.

Emergency services operator

In some regions, these operators answer emergency calls, figure out what type of emergency it is, and then transfer the call to a specialized dispatcher or service.

Crisis intervention operator

Focuses on calls related to mental health crises, domestic violence, and suicide prevention. They provide immediate help in situations that may not need police, fire, or medical services.

Top skills for 911 operators

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as a 911 operator. The following descriptions provide insights into the abilities anyone aspiring to this role should focus on developing.

Communication skills

Essential for understanding and extracting key information from callers, providing clear instructions, and effectively communicating during high-stress situations. Good communication can be the difference in getting the right help to the right place quickly.

Decision-making abilities

Quick and effective decision-making is vital in emergencies to determine the best response for a situation and manage distressed callers. The ability to think clearly and act swiftly is critical.

Emotional resilience

They often face stressful and upsetting scenarios. Being emotionally resilient allows them to handle their own emotions, stay focused, and maintain professionalism while helping callers in crisis.


Operators must handle several tasks at once, like listening to the caller, inputting data, and dispatching services. This requires concentration, quick reflexes, and effective task prioritization.

Technological proficiency

Comfort with using complex computer and telecommunication systems is necessary. They need to quickly and efficiently use these systems to receive calls, locate callers, and dispatch emergency services.

911 operator career path

Starting as a 911 operator can lead to various career advancement opportunities:


Many begin their careers in customer service or similar roles, where they develop critical communication skills and the ability to handle stress. Specialized training is provided to equip them with the skills to efficiently manage emergency calls.

Senior or lead operator

With experience, operators can advance to senior or lead roles, handling calls and mentoring newer colleagues. Performance, experience, and additional training or certifications are crucial for this advancement.

Supervisory or managerial roles

Proven leadership abilities can lead to positions like shift supervisor or communications center manager. These roles focus on overseeing the call center’s operations, maintaining quality control, and training staff.

Administrative or executive roles

With extensive experience, some may move into higher-level positions such as director of communications or emergency services coordinator. These roles involve strategic planning, policy development, and coordinating with other emergency service agencies.

Each step in this career path offers opportunities to grow and contribute significantly to public safety and emergency response systems.

The 911 operator role is changing a lot because of new technology and what people need. Here’s what’s happening:

  • Next Generation 911 systems: Now, people can reach 911 through voice, text, or video from any device. This means operators get more info like medical records or videos of what’s happening, helping them respond better.
  • Focus on mental health: Since being a 911 operator is super stressful, there’s more training and support for their mental health.
  • Need for bilingual operators: As communities get more diverse, speaking more than one language is really helpful in this job.

Employment projections for 911 operators

Regarding job outlook, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the demand for 911 operators will grow about 4% through 2031, which is average. This growth is because we’ll always need 911 services, but it might be slower if local governments have tight budgets. People who are great communicators, can handle stress well, and know about computers and tech will have the best chances of getting these jobs.

911 operator career tips

Build emotional resilience

You’ll face stressful and tough situations. Being emotionally strong helps you stay calm and assist callers effectively.

Practice active listening

Really listening to what callers are saying is super important. They might be scared or in danger, so understanding them quickly can save lives.

Know your local geography

Understanding where things are in your area helps a lot in sending help to the right place fast.

Network professionally

Connect with others in your field. Join groups like APCO International, NENA, International Academics of Emergency Dispatch, or the National Association of State 911 Administrators for support and tips.

Take care of yourself

Avoid burnout by looking after your health. Exercise, eat well, get enough sleep, and get help if you’re feeling stressed out.

Keep learning

Stay up to date with new tech, procedures, and best practices. Learn about crisis intervention, advanced first aid, multilingual communication, and mental health.

Get good at multitasking

You’ll often do several things at once, like talking to a caller and dispatching help. Being able to multitask helps a lot.

Be patient and empathetic

Callers might be upset or scared. Being patient and showing you understand and care can really make a difference.

Where the 911 operator jobs are

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • GovernmentJobs
  • LinkedIn
  • SimplyHired


What skills are required to be a successful 911 operator?

  • Excellent communication skills: You’ll be the first person people talk to in emergencies. You need to quickly and clearly get information from callers who might be upset or confused.
  • Problem-solving abilities: Figuring out fast what help is needed and the best way to provide it is key.
  • Emotional resilience: This job can be really stressful and emotional. You have to be able to handle that and stay calm.
  • Multitasking skills: You’ll often do several things at once, like talking to a caller, entering data, and coordinating with emergency services.
  • Proficiency in typing and tech: Being good at typing and using complex dispatch systems and software is vital to do the job effectively.

What are the typical duties of a 911 operator?

  • Answering calls: Handling both emergency and non-emergency calls.
  • Gathering information: Collecting critical details from callers, like the nature of the emergency and the location.
  • Dispatching emergency services: Sending the appropriate services – police, fire, or medical – based on the situation.
  • Providing instructions: Offering guidance or life-saving instructions, like how to perform CPR, to callers while help is en route.
  • Documenting calls: Keeping accurate records of each call and the actions taken.
  • Communicating with emergency personnel: Staying in touch with the emergency teams dispatched to the scene.
  • Follow-up: Sometimes, they may need to follow up on cases for additional information or updates.

What role does a 911 operator play in emergency response?

Their actions have a big impact on how emergencies are handled. They collect important information, decide which emergency services are needed, and often give instructions that could save lives. Being able to remain calm, think clearly, and act fast is essential in these situations, and it can greatly change the outcome of an emergency.

How stressful is the job of a 911 operator?

The job of a 911 operator is indeed quite stressful. They regularly handle emergencies where quick, life-saving decisions are needed. The fast-paced nature of their work requires them to manage several calls at the same time.

Hearing people in distress and dealing with tough situations can be emotionally hard. But despite these challenges, many operators find the job fulfilling because they get to help people when they need it the most.

What kind of training does a 911 operator need?

  • Basic education: A high school diploma or GED.
  • Specialized training: Programs approved by local or national bodies in emergency communications cover topics such as emergency medical, fire, and police dispatching, how to talk in crises, and how to use dispatch equipment.
  • Emergency medical dispatching certification: Some get this extra certification so they can give medical advice to callers before emergency help gets there.

What role does a 911 operator play in public safety?

They create a crucial connection between the public and emergency responders. By quickly getting and evaluating information and then sending out the right emergency services, they help save lives, prevent injuries, and protect property. They also make things safer by giving callers instructions to reduce risks until help arrives.

How does a 911 operator interact with police, fire, and EMS departments?

A 911 operator works closely with police, fire, and EMS departments. They send these services to emergencies based on what callers tell them. They make sure to clearly tell these departments what and where the emergency is. They keep talking to the teams they send out, giving them more info or instructions if needed.

What challenges does a 911 operator typically face?

  • High stress: Managing emergencies is stressful, and the emotional toll of dealing with crises can be heavy.
  • Communicating with distressed callers: Getting clear information from people who are scared, hurt, or in panic is tough.
  • Accuracy and speed: They need to be fast and accurate in a high-pressure environment.
  • Difficult callers: Sometimes, they deal with callers who are uncooperative or challenging.
  • Language barriers: Communicating with callers who speak different languages can be hard.
  • Technical issues: They might face problems with their communication systems or equipment.

What is the importance of empathy in the role of a 911 operator?

Empathy is really important for 911 operators. When people call in, they’re often upset, scared, or in danger. Being empathetic helps the operator calm them down, build trust, and get the important information they need.

When operators understand and care about the caller’s feelings and let them know help is coming, it can make a big difference in a scary situation. But they also have to keep being professional and efficient to do their job well.

What shifts do 911 operators typically work?

911 operators usually work in shifts because emergency call centers need to be open all the time, every day of the week. This means they work at night, on weekends, and on holidays too. They might work 8, 10, or 12 hours at a time.

Sometimes, they have to work extra hours, especially if there are a lot of calls or emergencies. The schedule can be tough, but many operators like that they have different work hours and some flexibility.