- Population growth and economic expansion are expected to spur employment
growth for all types of dispatchers.
- Many dispatchers are at the entry level and do not require more than a
high school diploma.
- Although there are no mandatory licensing or certification requirements,
some States require public safety dispatchers to be certified.
Dispatchers schedule and dispatch workers, equipment, or service vehicles to
carry materials or passengers. They keep records, logs, and schedules of the
calls that they receive, the transportation vehicles that they monitor and
control, and the actions that they take. They maintain information on each call
and then prepare a detailed report on all activities occurring during their
shifts. Many dispatchers employ computer-aided dispatch systems to accomplish
these tasks. The work of dispatchers varies greatly, depending on the industry
in which they work.
Regardless of where they work, 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. One person usually handles all dispatching calls to the response
units or company drivers, while the other members of the team usually receive
the incoming calls and deal with the public.
Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers, also called public safety
dispatchers, monitor the location of emergency services personnel from any one
or all of the jurisdictions 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: A
police station, a fire station, a hospital, or, increasingly, a centralized
communications center. In many areas, the police department serves as the
communications center. In these situations, all emergency calls go to the police
department, where a dispatcher handles the police 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 request for help is communicated immediately to uniformed or
supervisory personnel, who quickly decide on the priority of the incident, the
kind and number of units needed, and the location of the closest and most
suitable units available. Typically, a team answers calls and relays the
information to be dispatched. Responsibility then shifts to the dispatchers, who
send response units to the scene and monitor the activity of the public safety
personnel answering the dispatched message. During the course of the shift,
dispatchers may rotate these functions.
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 patients 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. (A separate statement on emergency medical technicians and
paramedics appears elsewhere in the Handbook.)
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 gas lines and water mains and send out
service trucks and crews to take care of emergencies.
The work of dispatchers can be very hectic when many calls come in at the
same time. The job of public safety dispatcher 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
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,
as well as 24-hour-per-day, 7-day-per-week operations.
Qualifications, and Advancement
Many dispatchers are at the entry level and do not require more than a high
school diploma. Employers, however, prefer to hire people familiar with
computers and other electronic office and business equipment. Typing, filing,
recordkeeping, and other clerical skills also are important.
State or local government civil service regulations usually govern police,
fire, emergency medical, and ambulance dispatching jobs. Candidates for these
positions may have to pass written, oral, and performance tests. Also, they may
be asked to attend training classes and attain the proper certification in order
to qualify for advancement.
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. Public safety dispatchers usually require the most extensive training.
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 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.
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,
Although there are no mandatory licensing or certification 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
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
Dispatchers held 266,000 jobs in 2004. About 36 percent were police, fire,
and ambulance dispatchers, almost all of whom worked for State and local
governments primarily local police and fire departments. About 26 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
Employment of dispatchers is expected to grow about as fast as the average
for all occupations through 2014. 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.
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. Many districts are consolidating their
communications centers into a shared area-wide facility. 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.
Median annual earnings of dispatchers, except police, fire, and ambulance in
May 2004 were $30,920. The middle 50 percent earned between $23,480 and $41,040.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,820, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $52,440.
Median annual earnings of police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers in 2004
were $28,930. The middle 50 percent earned between $23,060 and $35,970. The
lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,710, and the highest 10 percent earned
more than $44520.
Dispatchers usually receive the same benefits as most other workers.
Other occupations that involve directing and controlling the movement of
vehicles, freight, and personnel, as well as distributing information and
messages, include air traffic
equipment operators, customer
service representatives, and
reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks.
Sources of Additional
For further information on training and certification for police, fire, and
emergency dispatchers, contact:
- Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, International, 351
N. Williamson Blvd., Daytona Beach, FL 32114-1112. Internet:
- International Municipal Signal Association (IMSA), PO Box 359, 165 E.
Union Street, Newark, NY 14513-0539. Internet:
Information on job opportunities for police, fire, and emergency dispatchers
is available from personnel offices of State and local governments or police
departments. Information about work opportunities for other types of dispatchers
is available from local employers and State employment service offices.
Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S.
Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07
Dispatchers, on the Internet at
April 06, 2006).