911 Dispatcher Requirements in Tennessee: Meeting the statewide minimum standards

Tennessee has set statewide minimum standards for call takers and dispatchers. Applicants will demonstrate to their prospective employers that they meet eligibility requirements. They will not need to meet training requirements until post-hire; there is often a lengthy probationary period. Training requirements apply to anyone who receives 911 calls, either directly or by transfer from another agency.

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

Select a Tennessee 911 Dispatcher Topic:

General Eligibility Requirements

A Tennessee 911 dispatcher must hold U.S. citizenship. He or she must be at least 18 years of age and in possession of a high school diploma or equivalency.

The prospective dispatcher must have a fingerprint-based criminal background check. Felonies are automatically disqualifying as are crimes that involve domestic violence. Some other crimes are disqualifying unless the hiring agency requests a waiver.

Title 7 of state code also mandates good character. This is determined by the hiring agency following a background investigation. The individual may not have been discharged from the military under other than honorable or medical discharge (though this requirement may be waived under some circumstances such as when the individual separated at the entry-level).

The Hiring Process

A prospective dispatcher may need to pass one or more examinations. Among the tests that may be employed are the Criticall and the ECOMM. The ECOMM includes three sections: call taker video, call taker note taking, and dispatcher. Among the skills tested are listening and communications, responsibility for officer safety, multitasking, problem solving, and attention to detail. The Criticall is comprised of a number of tests, among them, call summarization, cross-referencing, probability determination, sentence clarity, and reading comprehension (http://criticall911.com/); hiring agencies that opt for the Criticall may select which are most relevant to their needs.

The hiring process for employees of the E-911 Emergency Communications Center in Nashville currently includes both examinations. Applicants who meet minimum standards 1) attend an orientation 2) take the Criticall and 3) take ECOMM.

Some agencies, on the other hand, utilize neither of the above exams. They may still require a typing test and psychological evaluation.

Training Requirements

Tennessee mandates classroom instruction and on-the-job training.

The dispatcher or call taker will need at least 45 hours of classroom instruction. According to state rule, these hours may be earned through an agency, academy, or post-secondary educational institution (http://share.tn.gov/sos/rules/0780/0780-06/0780-06.htm). A school must provide practical experience, either through liaison with a communications center or use of a fully functional simulator.

The course will need to meet state-mandated minimums in each of seven content areas. Content areas are as follows:

  • Roles and responsibilities – 4 hours
  • Interpersonal communication – 5 hours
  • Legal concepts – 2 hours
  • Emergency communications technology – 4 hours
  • Call processing and communication techniques – 11 hours
  • Radio communication and dispatch – 12 hours
  • Stress management – 2 hours

The “radio communication and dispatch” content area includes consoles, responder safety, radio coverage, FCC rules, radio discipline, and procedures and protocols. A full description of course content can be found in Chapter 0780-06-02 of state rule (http://share.tn.gov/sos/rules/0780/0780-06/0780-06.htm). The program will include testing.

The call taker or dispatcher will receive a minimum of 40 hours of supervised training. The trainee will learn about the geographic area of the agency or department, the structure of the local government, local ordinances, public and private resources, and policies and procedures; he or she will receive a policy/ procedure handbook. Training will cover National Crime Information Center (NCIC) data, if applicable.

Administrative rule states that individual agencies are allowed to augment the required curriculum. Some provide a longer classroom training period. The dispatcher may earn several national certifications, for example, Basic Telecommunicator, Emergency Medical Dispatcher, and Emergency Fire Dispatcher.


Emergency communications professionals will generally not need college coursework at the dispatcher level unless there are specific skills that they need to develop. A hiring agency typically looks for clerical skills, including fast and accurate typing; the individual will need to type in an automatic way while exercising higher level thinking. Knowledge of local geography may be expected. Some individuals will also benefit from an introduction to the criminal justice system and/or the workings of public agencies.

Successful experience and positive evaluations are a big part of the advancement process. A trainer or shift supervisor may, however, need skills beyond those that are developed on the job. The hiring agency may require a supervisor to pursue role-specific certification through an organization such as the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO International).

At the higher levels, a degree is often an expectation. Nashville is among the municipalities that expect a candidate at the director level to have a bachelor’s degree as well as extensive experience.

Nationwide, emergency management, public administration, and business administration are among the more common degree options.

While most emergency dispatchers and call takers are public servants, some work for private companies such as Rural Metro. There are opportunities for advancement here, too. At the level of transportation coordinator, the hiring agency may expect a bachelor’s degree. Healthcare experience is a preferred qualification.

Career communications professionals may want to pursue national certifications. One option is the Emergency Numbers Professional (ENP). Emergency communications professionals must have, at minimum, three years of experience before they are allowed to test for the ENP. A candidate will also need ten points. Points may be earned through some combination of the following: additional experience, qualifying professional development or service, academic education. A degree at the bachelor’s level is worth four points.

The Tennessee Emergency Numbers Association (TENA) can provide additional information about the ENP process. NENA has scholarship money available for some qualified applicants.

Additional Information

Information about 911 dispatch requirements is available from the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board (http://tn.gov/commerce/section/E911).

State professional associations include the Tennessee Emergency Number Association (http://tena911.org/index.htm) and the Tennessee Chapter of APCO International (http://www.psconnect.org/tennesseeapco/home).