911 Emergency Dispatcher in Rhode Island
Rhode Island emergency telecommunicators have varying duties. The primary role may be call taker, police dispatcher, or fire/ emergency medical dispatcher. Job requirements vary from one position to another.
Telecommunicators need a solid general education at at least the high school level. They also need training that is specific to the job role. Post-secondary education can increase career options.
Higher education, such as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, may offer additional opportunities and status in the Emergency Dispatcher field.
Select a Rhode Island Emergency 911 Dispatcher Topic:
- Rhode Island PSAP System
- Minimum Education
- Telecommunicator Training
- The Hiring Process
- Additional Information: Contacts for State and Local Agencies, Education Options & Other Helpful Resources
Rhode Island PSAP System
Rhode Island has one primary E911 Public Safety Answering Point, under the banner of the Department of Public Health (DPS). The PSAP operates from the North Scituate DPS site, though there is back-up functionality elsewhere. The center has enhanced 911; this means that caller location is shown automatically. Telecommunicators at the North Sciate center receive many emergency calls per shift, averaging a minute to a minute-and-a-half per call. Calls may be transferred to any of more than 70 local agencies. Typically these are municipal agencies. Some calls require the original receiver — a highly trained professional — to stay on the line until help arrives.
While dispatchers at other communications centers receive 911 calls only by way of the primary PSAP, they may also receive emergency calls directly from the public via the facility’s seven digit phone number.
Some dispatchers specialize in police communications. They may receive communications from police officers as well as from the public. Other dispatchers dispatch fire and emergency medical services. However, there are multiple combinations possible. Both police and fire may be dispatched from the same center.
Some individuals perform related activities outside the 911 system. They may, for example, monitor alarms and dispatch emergency services as needed.
Telecommunicators should be prepared for change. The Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University conducted an analysis of Rhode Island’s 911 system at state request. The Taubman Center noted that Rhode Island’s 911 organizational structural is unusual but has been effective (Structure). Some changes will be necessary to use Next Generation (NG911) technologies to full advantage.
High school graduation represents the entry level. Call takers and dispatchers also need a specific skill set; some will need additional coursework or work experience to develop skills. Telecommunicators need to be able keyboard in an automatic way while carrying out other more complex tasks. Strong communication skills and critical thinking ability are a must. Telecommunicators are generally expected to have some business writing skills. They must be able to interact with individuals with a variety of special needs, including young children and people with autism and other disabilities. What’s more, they need to carry out all these processes in a high-pressure, fast-paced work environment. It can help to be a good test taker – and not just to pass the test that is often required as a condition of employment. Agencies may like to see particular courses such as keyboarding; these may be either completed during high school or afterward.
Some employers do state a preference for education beyond the high school level. A private company, for example, recently advertised for an emergency dispatcher/ alarm monitor and noted a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience among the preferred qualifications.
As emergency communication professional will need a broader, deeper skill set to progress to the leadership levels (supervision, training, and police development). Here a college degree can prove useful. The degree also offers versatility, allowing professionals to move into other emergency management or public safety roles if they reach a stage in life where the 911 schedule no longer works for them. Many job roles are described on the Rhode Island Human Resources website; individuals may want to search the ‘law enforcement/ public safety’ category (http://www.hr.ri.gov/job specs).
There are typically two components to training: a classroom component and an on-the job component. Police and fire departments may utilize national vendors to provide their training. When training is followed by examination, the process is often called certification. Dispatchers may be required to achieve multiple certifications during their probationary period. The North Providence Police Department, for example, requires a basic telecommunicator certification as well as certification in state and national criminal justice systems.
Rhode Island does not have mandatory training standards. The length of the training period may vary a good deal. The amount of in-service will also vary. A telecommunicator may benefit from many trainings that are not provided by the employer: everything from AMBER alerts and suicidal callers to self-care. Maintaining ties to national professional associations is one way to stay apprised of training needs and opportunities. Many courses are offered online through organizations such as the Association of Public-Safety Officers (APCO International) and PowerPhone.
The Hiring Process
The hiring process will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Individuals who meet minimum requirements may be invited to take a test. Nationwide, many call centers employ the Criticall or the TELECOMM. Some jurisdictions, though, use their own tests. The test may be given only occasionally. Successful performance may mean placement on a list as opposed to immediate employment. On the other hand, some jurisdictions advertise to fill immediate vacancies.
The candidate can expect a physical examination. He or she may also need to have hearing and vision screening.
General information about Rhode Island’s 911 system is available from the Rhode Island Enhanced 911 Uniform Emergency Telephone System website (ri911.ri.gov).
Emergency dispatchers can be active in professional organizations at the state, regional, or national levels. Membership in the Atlantic Chapter of APCO International may prove useful (apco-atlantic.org). Interested individuals may also contact the state representative of the National Emergency Numbers Association (www.nena.org/page/Chapters).