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911 Dispatcher Requirements: Emergency Telecommunicators in Mississippi

Mississippi’s emergency telecommunicators are state-certified. The Mississippi Board on Emergency Telecommunications Standards and Training (BETST) recognizes the following types of dispatcher: Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Telecommunicator, Fire Service Telecommunicator, and Law Enforcement Telecommunicator. A dispatcher may be recognized in all three; there are only minor additional steps to be recognized in a second or third type of emergency communication.

Dispatchers have up to a year from the date of hire to meet basic training mandates and receive certification.

The individual will not necessarily have completed the training when he or she attains a position. The first step is meeting requirements set by the hiring agency. Mississippi has set general eligibility requirements. Additional requirements may be set by the jurisdiction.

Some dispatchers may need additional training to qualify as Mississippi Justice Information Center (MJIC) terminal operators.

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

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General Dispatcher Eligibility Requirements

A Mississippi Emergency Telecommunicator must be at least eighteen. He or she will need to have completed high school or attained a GED; an ACT score of at least 15 may be accepted in place of a GED. The individual must be a U.S. citizen.

Certification will be denied if the individual is determined to have poor character. The employer will carry out a background check. The certification agency has published a standards document, which includes a description of areas of inquiry that have bearing on character and fitness.

Crimes of moral turpitude are disqualifying. A criminal background is not disqualifying in all instances. In cases where a certification applicant answers “yes” to questions about adverse legal or professional history, explanation must be provided to the Board. (Individual agencies may of course be more stringent than BSEST.)

Additional Employer Expectations

Employers typically ask for strong written and oral communication ability in the English language; proficiency in a second language may also be valued.

The job requires typing. Employing agencies often specify a minimum typing speed, for example 35 words per minute.

The application process may include several assessments. The Biloxi Police/ Fire Department, for example, administers a selection inventory test, personality profile assessment, and Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (http://www.biloxi.ms.us/dispatcher/).

Telecommunicator Training Requirements

The dispatcher will need to complete a basic telecommunicator course. The course will include at least 40 hours of training. Mississippi has approved basic telecommunicator courses offered by the following organizations: APCO International, the National Emergency Communications Institute, and the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch (now known as the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch).

The prospective Emergency Telecommunicator must also do eight hours of observation. In some parts of the state, this can be accomplished through a traditional type of ‘ride-along’. The dispatcher may have the opportunity to complete the observation at his or her own agency, provided that the agency has a sufficient call volume. Expectations for the ride-along are described in Administrative Code. Professional Association APCO International has provided additional information about the process (http://psc.apcointl.org/2010/09/01/state-training-certification-survey/).

The agency head will sign a form verifying completion of observation requirements. The observation must include one or more of the following: fire service, law enforcement, or emergency medical. To qualify in a particular specialty, the dispatcher will need eight hours in the specialty.

Emergency Medical Services Telecommunicator Requirements

An EMS Telecommunicator will also need to complete an emergency medical dispatch program. Mississippi has approved the Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) credentials offered by the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch and APCO International as well as the Emergency Medical Services Dispatch training offered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Emergency Medical Communications Officer training offered by NECI.

The EMS Telecommunicator will need CPR certification by the American Red Cross, American Heart Association, or equivalent organization.

The Application Process

Dispatchers typically apply for certification before all requirements have been met. The certification application is to be submitted within thirty days of hire; at this point, just the first three sections need to be completed.

The application form requires notarization.

The hiring agency completes part of the application. The agency may have the ability to submit paperwork electronically.

Recertification

The certification period is three years. The emergency telecommunicator will complete at least 48 hours of approved elective coursework during the three-year period. At least six subject areas are to be covered. There are many acceptable electives, among them, CPR/ AED, call taking techniques, crimes-in-process, stress management, and Spanish for dispatchers. Approved conferences and seminars may be creditable.

The dispatcher will complete a recertification program the third year of his or her initial certification period. The recertification program is two days.

BETST has provided a list of upcoming trainings (http://www.dps.state.ms.us/highway-patrol/training-academies/events-2).

Emergency Telecommunicator Instructor Certification

Mississippi also certifies Emergency Telecommunicator Instructors. An instructor will qualify through experience and/ or education. A telecommunicator who has completed less than two years of college will need at least five years of experience. A telecommunicator who has completed two years of college will need four years of experience. With a bachelor’s degree, the requirement is reduced to three years.

Additional Advancement Opportunities

Successful dispatchers may take on supervisory and administrative positions in the emergency communications field. In some cases, a degree will be required. The following is an example. A healthcare system in Winona recently advertised for a communications manager who had a bachelor’s degree in business or other related field, Emergency Medical Dispatch or Emergency Medical Technician certification, computer aided dispatch (CAD) experience, and several years of experience in a leadership capacity within the communications field.

Public administration is a popular degree choice nationwide for professionals in emergency communications. Public safety communications professionals also build skills through leadership level professional certifications.

Additional Information

Information about emergency dispatcher certification requirements is available from the Board on Emergency Telecommunications Standards and Training (http://www.dps.state.ms.us/divisions/board-on-emergency-telecommunications-standards-and-training-betst). Standards are described in a document titled “Professional Certification Policy and Procedures Manual”.

BETST is under the banner of the Department of Public Safety, Office of Standards and Training. The professional in charge of Emergency Telecommunications Certification can be reached by telephone at (601) 977-3776. Additional contact information is available online (http://www.dps.state.ms.us/divisions/public-safety-planning/office-of-standards-and-training/contact-us/).

State professional organizations include the Mississippi Chapter of APCO International (http://apco-ms.org) and the Mississippi Chapter of the Emergency Numbers Association (http://www.nena.org/?page=Chapters).