911 Dispatcher Requirements in Iowa: What does it take to become a 911 Dispatcher in Iowa

Iowa’s emergency dispatchers handle police, fire, safety, and rescue dispatch. They must meet state training standards. According to state law, training mandates apply to any worker whose primary duty is as a telecommunicator (https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/code/80b.11c.pdf).

The state-mandated curriculum is brief: about a week in length. The hiring process, though, may be much longer! Requirements vary somewhat from agency to agency. The following is a look at typical requirements for entry and advancement.

Higher education, such as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, may offer additional opportunities and status in the Emergency Dispatcher field.

Select an Iowa 911 Dispatcher Topic:

Employment Options

Iowa’s emergency dispatchers are employed by state and local governmental authorities. They may go by various titles, including telecommunicator and communications specialist. Some dispatchers are employed by hospitals.

Communications specialists are often generalists; they may handle non-emergency criminal justice and public safety issues as well as emergencies.

Medical dispatch, though, can be its own specialty. While communications centers handle all kinds of 911 calls, some may be transferred. Medical dispatch can be a more difficult field to break into. Medical centers sometimes seek ambulance dispatchers who have emergency medical technician experience.

Governmental agencies may allow only the more highly trained dispatchers to follow pre-arrival medical protocols. Dispatchers will not necessarily need a lot of medical training. Some positions require only Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) certification and basic first aid certifications such as CPR. There are multiple EMD providers, including the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch.

The Iowa Telecommunicator published an article about the importance of EMD (http://publications.iowa.gov/11774/1/Telecom_April.pdf).

Educational Standards

Dispatch is a career that is open to individuals with education from the high school level on. Sometimes, though, an individual agency will state a preference for college education and/ or allow coursework to substitute for work experience.

In Des Moines, an individual may be hired as either a Public Safety Dispatcher or Senior Public Safety Dispatcher. There are distinctions in the typical job duties between these two classifications. Only at the Senior Public Safety Dispatcher level is following protocol to give pre-arrival instructions listed as a duty. Radio dispatch is a routine duty only at the Senior level, though a worker below this level could on occasion be called upon to perform it. At the Public Safety Dispatcher level, the agency asks for a high school diploma or GED and a year of experience operating similar types of equipment to those used on the job. At the Senior level, the hiring agency sets high school equivalency as the minimum but states a preference for either college coursework or prior experience in dispatch. Senior Public Safety Dispatchers must also possess, or be able to earn, multiple entry-level certifications.

The Iowa Department of Administrative Services, too, considers post-secondary education. The Department distinguishes between Communications Center Specialist 1 and Communications Center Specialist 2 (https://das.iowa.gov/human-resources/classification-and-pay/job-class-descriptions). There are multiple pathways to qualification at the Communications Center Specialist 2 level. The hiring agency can accept two years of work experience or one year of qualifying academic education. Work experience is to be as a dispatcher or communications or radio operator; it may be for a governmental entity at any level. Private sector employment may also qualify. Academic education is to be in law enforcement or a field related to law enforcement. Professionals who are currently employed in a similar capacity with the state executive government may qualify after as little as one year.

Other Pre-Hire Requirements

Whatever his or her education level, the applicable will need to demonstrate a number of skills. Some, like the ability to hold up under pressure, are largely a matter of personality. Others, like typing and clerical skills, may be developed through education.

The Department of Administrative Services lists ability to carry out quick research and ability to interpret coded information among the needed skills.

The telecommunications hiring process may include physical and psychological testing as well as a background check.

Training Requirements

A dispatcher must complete a training program approved by the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. The basic training course is 40 hours (https://www.legis.iowa.gov/law/administrativeRules/rules?agency=501&chapter=13&pubDate=08-20-2014). It covers the following topics:

Public safety services/ telecommunicator roles
Human relations and communication
Systems, equipment, and terminology
Types of emergency call
Basic dispatch/ broadcast techniques
Dispatching and managing response calls
Multitasking and prioritization
Motivation and stress management
Resource awareness
Legal issues and liability

Dispatchers may enroll through the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, or ILEA (https://ileatraining.org/default.aspx).

The dispatcher will receive at least eight hours of in-service a year.

Dispatchers who have been out of the field for a while face variable requirements during their first year back on the job. An individual who has gone for six months without working as a telecommunicator in the state is required to complete eight hours of training. After 12 months, the requirement increases to 20 hours. After 36 months, it will be necessary to do another 40 hours.

ILEA offers a course in basic Spanish for 911 personnel.

Long-Term Career Options

Well-qualified dispatchers can often move into supervisory or training positions on the strength of employment experience. To move to the highest levels in the emergency communications field, however, it is often necessary to earn a degree.

Iowa also sets minimum requirements for telecommunicator trainers. A college degree is not necessary for this position– just two years of experience. The experience requirement can be waived only in cases of “outstanding” experience or education. An instructor will need 40 hours of training in instruction unless he or she has 80 hours of recent experience providing training. Again, individual agencies may set requirements higher than those mandated by law.

In Des Moines, college coursework can be part of the pathway to a Senior Public Safety Dispatcher position. To move up to Principal Public Safety Dispatcher, one needs a minimum of three years of experience.

Additional Information

Training information is available from the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (https://ileatraining.org/default.aspx/MenuItemID/107/MenuGroup/Home.htm). Training requirements are described in state administrative code (https://www.legis.iowa.gov/law/administrativeRules/rules?agency=501&chapter=13&pubDate=08-20-2014).

State professional associations include the Iowa Chapter of APCO (http://www.iowaapco.com) and the Iowa Chapter of the National Emergency Numbers Association http://iowanena.org). Both organizations were referenced in state legislature as consultants in the development of training standards (http://coolice.legis.iowa.gov/cool-ice/default.asp?category=billinfo&service=iowacode&input=80B#80B.11C).

Recognized areas of study in this profession include:

  • Emergency Management
  • Homeland Security
  • Public Safety
  • Communications
  • Criminal Justice