911 Emergency Dispatcher Requirements in Washington

Many telecommunicators are employed at official Washington State Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs); they receive 911 calls directly from the public. Emergency dispatchers may also be hired by other governmental agencies or by private organizations, including medical centers. Some agencies distinguish between call receivers and dispatchers.

Washington makes some distinction between telecommunicators who work at PSAPs and those who are employed by other organizations. PSAP employees have the opportunity to pursue training through the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission; they receive state certification. While the training is considered voluntary from a legal standpoint, it may be mandated by the hiring agency. The hiring agency may mandate – and provide – a number of other trainings.

PSAP employees may also be recognized by Washington State on the basis of equivalent training.

Telecommunicators who dispatch emergency medical services have specialized training needs. Washington has not instituted statewide Emergency Medical Dispatch standards. However, individual counties have mandates in place.

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

Select a Washington 911 Dispatcher Topic:

Educational Standards

Telecommunicators are generally expected to have 12th grade level education. College education may prove useful to those who wish to advance. In some instances, it is also useful at the entry-level, either to develop skills or to compensate for a lack of work experience; the latter is at employer discretion.

Some hiring agencies administer assessments. The Criticall is used at many centers around the nation. Duties and working conditions aren’t identical from site to site; thus individual employers administer different portions of the Criticall. Prospective telecommunicators should be aware that there is a strong correlation between assessed skills and job success. Even if these skills aren’t assessed at the onset, chances are they will be needed.

Prospective telecommunicators are frequently required to pass a typing test. Some hiring agencies also administer other types of assessments. Prospective Emergency Communications Dispatchers in Redmond are given a writing assignment as part of the evaluation process (http://agency.governmentjobs.com/redmondwa/default.cfm?action=viewJob&jobID=1206929).

Training Opportunities

Telecommunicator training is provided by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission . There is no cost for the training. In order to attend, the telecommunicator must work at a Washington PSAP. The Commission offers training at the Telecommunicator I and Telecommunicator II levels. Each of these courses is 40 hours and culminates in a test (https://fortress.wa.gov/cjtc/www/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=30&Itemid=55). Students scoring at least 70% receive certification. Initial certification is valid for two years. In order to renew the certificate, the telecommunicator must have 24 hours of continuing education or in-service training.

The Telecommunicator I course provides some introduction to emergency medical dispatch as well as to general telecommunicator duties. The following are among the topics covered:

  • Telecommunicator role
  • Active listening
  • AMBER Alerts
  • Emergency medical dispatch overview
  • Incident command system introduction
  • Challenging callers
  • Suicidal callers
  • Stress management

The second course delves more deeply into law enforcement and fire services dispatch. Content includes the following:

  • Fire operations and dispatch methods
  • Law enforcement dispatch methods
  • Responder safety issues
  • Hazardous materials incidents

Telecommunicator I and II courses are most frequently held at the Burien location. Registration information and student guides can be found on the information page for each course.

An individual hired by a Washington PSAP can be recognized for equivalent training completed during the prior year, whether through an in-house Washington program, out-of-state program, training vendor, or school. The individual will need to pass an examination. Details are available on the Commission website (https://fortress.wa.gov/cjtc/www/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=255&Itemid=201#AboutEquiv).

The Commission also provides a 24-hour Telecommunicator IV course that helps dispatchers overcome communication obstacles and succeed long-term. There is no associated examination. The hours can be applied toward continuing education requirements. The following are among the topics covered:

  • Framework for personal effectiveness
  • Overcoming workplace negativity
  • Understanding other’s behavioral styles
  • Conflict resolution

As emergency communications professionals take on additional responsibilities, they can again turn to the Commission for training. The Commission offers courses for instructors, training officers, and supervisors.

Telecommunicators who do not work for PSAPs still have access to quality training. Dispatchers may also enroll in short-term courses through professional organizations such as the Association of Public Safety Communications Officers (APCO International) or the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED). Some emergency communications agencies partner with national organizations to provide training.

Emergency Medical Dispatch

There may be additional EMD requirements set at the county level.

In King County, for example, dispatchers who handle medical service calls receive training in Criteria Based Dispatch (http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/ems/emd.aspx).

Long-Term Career Options

A successful dispatcher can move through the ranks or transfer skills to related occupations. One important role is that of instructor. Some Washington State emergency communications professionals become contractors for the Telecommunicator Program Office (https://fortress.wa.gov/cjtc/www/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=255&Itemid=201#UseCurriculum).

To get a sense of the many jobs available in 911, one can visit the website of the Kitsap 911, or Cencomm (http://www.kitsap911.org/job-descriptions/). Cencomm has provided detailed job descriptions for a variety of supervisory, technical, and administrative roles. Some can be achieved through successful work experience while others also require academic education or specialized training. An operations support technician, for example, will need computer or electronics coursework through a college or technical school as well as experience with computer aided dispatch/ enhanced 911 systems; the agency also looks for experience with particular software programs and applications. At the level of assistant director, a person is expected to have, in addition to five years of progressively responsible experience, a degree at the associate’s level. Among the qualifying fields are law enforcement, public administration, and business administration. Titles and requirements will of course vary somewhat from one jurisdiction to another.

Academic degrees can provide career flexibility and help prepare individuals for other related roles in the public safety or emergency management arenas. An Emergency Management Program Specialist I hired by Washington State is generally expected to have a degree at the bachelor’s level, though experience in related areas (for example, training) may be accepted in substitution.

Many Washington dispatchers are not only trained through a law enforcement academy but are employed in PSAPs housed in law enforcement agencies. Dispatchers may find themselves interested in other areas of criminal justice or public safety.

Additional Information

Information about training for PSAP employees is available from the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (https://fortress.wa.gov/cjtc/www/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=31&Itemid=72). The Telecommunicator Program Manager can be reached by telephone at 206-835-7351. Additional contact information is available online (https://fortress.wa.gov/cjtc/www/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=249&Itemid=88).

Washington State’s professional association is a combined chapter of APCO International and the National Emergency Numbers Association (http://waapconena.org). Washington APCO-NENA has provided a map of the state’s PSAPs; contact information is also provided (http://waapconena.org/psap.htm).