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911 Dispatcher Responsibilities & Daily Activities

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Dispatchers for 911 emergency calls have a high intensity job where they may serve as someone’s only line between life and death. Dispatchers are also known as 911 operators and may work with police, fire or ambulance. Their daily activities may vary greatly from day to day depending on what types of calls they receive.

Collecting Emergency Information

A 911 dispatcher is the first person a caller reaches when they call 911. Although most emergency services have computers that automatically register the address of the caller, a dispatcher must confirm the address or possibly determine the address if the caller is on a cell phone. Dispatchers work to calm down any distressed or distraught callers and obtain information about the situation. They have to determine who is hurt, where people are, if the scene is dangerous and what emergency personnel are needed. While they are gathering all of the information, they also need to quickly type it up and dispatch any emergency personnel while staying on the phone and remaining calm.

Emergency Response Coordinators

Among the most important 911 operator responsibilities is dispatching the appropriate emergency responders. If there are multiple emergencies, a dispatcher must determine the priority of each situation and send police, fire and/or ambulance. They may have to contact other public safety agencies other than their own if necessary and coordinate information between the various agencies. Dispatchers must also know all police codes, practices and methods as well as the geographic layout for the area they work.

Life Saving Instructors

The primary focus of the 911 operator job description is to save lives, and as such, emergency dispatchers frequently provide potentially life saving instructions over the phone when people are injured or in other emergency situations. They must know basic first aid and CPR in case they need to instruct someone over the phone. Dispatchers must also know procedures for emergencies such as accidents, murders, robberies, hostage situations, floods, fires and tornadoes. They may have to instruct callers what to do in any of these situations. While giving instructions to callers, they also try to calm the caller down.

Physical Requirements and Responsibilities

911 dispatcher jobs require a number of different physical responsibilities throughout the day. While dispatchers are expected to sit for long periods of time, they also may reach, twist, turn, kneel, bend or squat to get information or files or reach other equipment. They are also required to sit very close to security monitors and computers. Dispatchers must be able to hear and speak clearly to communicate and also are subject to a lot of stress from both callers and emergency responders in intense situations.

Clerical Responsibilities for a Public Safety Dispatcher

Dispatchers spend a lot of time at the computer. They are expected to type and write reports and may update department information on missing persons, stolen vehicles and warrants. Dispatchers also monitor a variety of equipment including radios, alarm panels and other national or local warning systems.


Tamara Runzel has been writing parenting, family and relationship articles since 2008. Runzel started in television news, followed by education before deciding to be a stay at home mom. She is now a mom of three and home schools her two oldest children. Runzel holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from University of the Pacific.

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