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911 Dispatcher Requirements in Nebraska

In Nebraska, 911 dispatcher job duties -- and standards -- vary a good deal from location to location. Some jurisdictions set standards quite high. All call takers and dispatchers need a strong foundation, even if they work in small centers where the true life-and-death emergency comes more rarely.

Future communications specialists can prepare by getting a solid general education and supplementing with trainings focused on specific technologies, roles, and situations. They need a realistic picture of the job. Some centers allow job shadowing.

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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About Nebraska’s 911 System

Nebraska's 76 Public Safety Answer Points are, by and large, operated by local governments. In some small jurisdictions, the same person who handles 911 calls also handles non-emergency calls -- and may have other duties like that of jailer. On the other end of the spectrum, some telecommunicators work in large communications centers with duties limited to 911 communications or even to roles within 911.

Telecommunicators should be prepared for change. The Nebraska Public Service Commission has made available Next Generation 911 report (http://www.psc.nebraska.gov/ntips/ntips_e911.html). The consulting agency noted that Enhanced 911 (E911) worked well in the current organizational structure but that changes were in order to facilitate Next Generation 911.

Entry Level Requirements

High school or GED is generally regarded as the minimum education level. However, high school education alone may not be enough to make a strong candidate. Sarpy County, for example, looks for two years of related experience; other approved combinations of education and experience may be approved.

A telecommunicator needs to gather data quickly and make quick accurate decisions even in nonroutine circumstances. Multitasking ability should be strong, keyboarding relatively automatic. Hiring agencies often use tests of job-related skills to determine who makes the cut. Some tests measure personality traits as well as cognitive functions.

Hiring is typically a multi-step process. In Lincoln, candidates who score highest at the testing phase move on to the interview stage. At this point, conditional offers can be made. However, candidates still need to complete medical and psychological evaluations; the hiring agency will need to conduct thorough background screening.

Lincoln reported that in a 2014 hiring period, 78 individuals completed testing and 23 moved on to the interview stage (https://www.lincoln.ne.gov/city/police/commc/reports.htm).

Training Requirements

There is a good deal of variability in training offered and mandated. Dispatchers may complete various trainings during the probationary period. Some take a basic course through the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center (NLETC). Many need National Crime Information Center (NCIC) certification.

Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) certification is frequently required; this prepares a dispatcher to give pre-arrival and post-dispatch instructions.

Some large communications centers have their own structured in-house training programs or academies. Sarpy County, for example, boasts 1080 total hours.

Continuing education is also variable. Dispatchers may turn to professional organizations like the Association of Public-Safety Officers (APCO International) for additional training.

Advancement Opportunities

With additional education and training, dispatchers can progress to higher levels in emergency dispatch, utilize their skills in related areas of emergency response, and even become leaders in the 911 field.

Large communication centers may employ emergency communications professionals at many levels of supervision and management; supervisors may have general or specialized roles. Lincoln, for example, employs Emergency Service Dispatchers at Levels I, II, and III and also employs professionals in various higher level positions such as Operation Quality Assurance Coordinator, Operations Training Coordinator, Communications Coordinator, and Communications Supervisor. At the level of Emergency Service Dispatcher II, professionals may begin to specialize; some individuals may be designated as Emergency Service Dispatcher II/ Technology Support. Additionally, some Lincoln dispatchers participate on an Incident Dispatch Team that works largely pre-planned events.

Most roles do not specify college coursework or formal training in the job description; Operations Supervisor (a somewhat technical role) is one exception (http://www.lincoln.ne.gov/city/person/city/cilist.htm). However, other high level positions require experience and expertise that may go beyond that that is acquired naturally as part of the job.

Sarpy County, on the other hand, notes that college coursework is desirable at the ‘Senior’ and ‘Lead’ levels.

At the higher administrative levels, a degree is often a requirement. In Sarpy County , the minimum requirement for 911 Director is stated as 1) a bachelor's in emergency management, communications, public administration, business administration, or criminal justice and 2) five years of combined police/ fire dispatching experience (or seven years spent at the senior managerial level in fire service or law enforcement); the hiring agency notes that other combinations can be accepted. Of course at this level a candidate may be competing against many qualified professionals. The hiring agency notes that selection is based on a number of factors including rating of education and experience.

Leadership can extend beyond one's own PSAP. The implementation of NG-911 will require not just new technologies and new trainings but new partnerships among organizations.

911 centers are involved in community outreach and public education. This can become an area of specialization. Dispatchers who get a taste of public education may ultimately be interested in other areas of emergency management and preparedness. Lincoln County that emergency preparedness is important to everyone, not just those who live in places like California or the Gulf Coast (https://e911.org). Emergency management positions often favor those with post-secondary coursework in areas like public administration and disaster planning.

Additional Information

Information about Nebraska’s emergency communications systems is available from the Wireless E911 Department (http://www.psc.nebraska.gov/ntips/ntips_e911.html). The Wireless E911 Department is under the banner of the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

The Nebraska Chapters of the Emergency Numbers Association and APCO International work cooperatively (http://www.neapconena.org/). Nebraska has an additional professional association, the Nebraska Emergency Service Communication Association (http://www.nesca911.com).