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911 Dispatcher Requirements in Oklahoma: Including DPS Communications Officers

Oklahoma has well over 100 Public Safety Answer Points, or PSAPS. Many are located in county sheriff's offices or municipal police departments. Some are stand-alone communications facilities. The state government hires some telecommunicators. The agency that answers the call is not necessarily the one that will dispatch services.

Some emergency dispatchers work outside the traditional PSAP system. They may, for example, be employed by health systems. They may be hired by the Department of Public Safety to work under the banner of the Highway Patrol; among their duties are handling police communications and answering *55 cell phone emergency calls.

Although Oklahoma does not have statewide training standards, pre-hire educational requirements can be high. Requirements depend on hiring agency. Individuals hired as communications officers by the Department of Public Safety must meet pre-hire standards described in state statute.

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

Select an Oklahoma Communications Officer or 911 Dispatcher Topic:

Requirement for DPS Communications Officers

Dispatchers who work as communications officers for the Department of Public Safety must be at least 20 years of age. They must have 15 semester hours of college coursework or six months of prior experience in dispatch. Requirements are described in 47 O.S. 1998 Supp. Section 2-105.B.2.b.

Entry-Level Education and Training Standards

Dispatchers need both general education and role-specific training. A high school diploma or GED may or may not provide a sufficient foundation. Agencies have different methods for assessing skill level and compatibility. The focus can be on administering assessments and/ or analyzing resume and transcripts. Sometimes college coursework is a preferred qualification, even if not a mandatory.

The following are examples of current standards of Oklahoma organizations:

The State of Oklahoma expects a candidate for Law Enforcement Communications Specialist to have either six months of dispatch experience or 15 semester hours of college coursework (https://www.ok.gov/opm/jfd/g-specs/g15.htm).

The University of Oklahoma looks for some combination of experience and education as qualification for the position of Communications Officer. Among the preferred qualifications is 30 semester hours of college coursework.

An Oklahoma health center noted recently that communications courses were a preferred qualification -- as was basic telecommunicator certification granted by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officers (APCO International).

Dispatchers also need training in topics such as the telecommunicator role, telephone techniques, dispatch procedures, challenging callers, police, fire service, and medical terminology, and handling of job-related stress. One way that dispatchers can ensure that they have the requisite training – even if their agency does not provide a lot – is to maintain ties to state and national professional associations.

Advancing to Leadership Roles

Oklahoma is in need of dispatchers -- and leaders. A 2012 report to the governor outlined some of the problems facing the state's 911 system: the challenges inherent in bringing modern emergency technologies to rural areas, ensuring that all dispatchers have access to training, and taking in adequate funding. One theme is that of inequity. Some dispatchers are enrolled in training programs that stretch out across a number of weeks. Others get very little training. There have been some gains since 2012, for example, a law that allows for increased charges for 911 cell phone use. There is much still to be done.

Some leadership roles are carried out within individual PSAPS. Supervisory level employees provide on-the-job training, listen in to calls to provide quality assurance, schedule shifts, and (funds permitting) select training programs. Other leadership roles extend into the community and across the state. Emergency communications leaders forge partnerships and shape policy.

Professional certification programs and academic degree programs help shape leaders. APCO International offers the Registered Public-Safety Leader (RPL) credential. A service project is among the requirements. In most cases, this must be a project that reaches beyond the local PSAP.

The National Emergency Numbers Association offers the Emergency Numbers Professional (ENP) certification. A candidate must first qualify and then pass an examination. The individual will need, at minimum, three years of experience. He or she will also need to document ten points. College degrees are worth between two and six points, depending on level. Points are also awarded for professional development and service through the Emergency Numbers Association and for other qualifying certifications such as Certified Emergency Manager (CEM); the CEM credential is awarded by the International Association of Emergency Managers.

Public administration and business administration are common degree choices. Other options include training and development, communications, and criminal justice. Some students have the option of pursuing emergency management or homeland security.

Telecommunicators who wish to transfer skills to other fields may be interested in the “public safety” and “general safety, security inspections and investigations” job families (https://www.ok.gov/opm/opm_html/job_family_index.htm). Different jurisdictions may use different job titles.

Additional Information

Information about the state's 911 system is available from the 911 Oklahoma Statewide Advisory Board (https://www.ok.gov/911/).

State professional associations include the Oklahoma Chapter of APCO International (http://okapco.org) and the Oklahoma Chapter of the Emergency Numbers Association (http://www.nena.org/?page=Chapters). The two organizations sponsor an annual conference. The 2015 conference included classes such as domestic violence awareness.