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.
Nature of the Work
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 jurisdiction’s 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
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
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 patient’s 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 gaslines 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 controlof
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
Training, Other 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
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 advancement.
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 firefighters.
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 located.
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 controllers, communications
equipment operators, customer service representatives, and reservation
and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks.
Sources of Additional Information
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: http://www.imsasafety.org/
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.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition