Emergency Services Dispatchers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Effective communication skills are key for emergency services dispatchers so you should take English, speech, and foreign language classes in high school. Computer science courses will help you to become familiar with computers and database management, which will come in handy as you manage large amounts of information and use computer systems to interact with callers and dispatch police or fire service personnel. Government and social studies classes will provide you with an introduction to the world around you and keep you up to date on current events. Some employers require applicants to be proficient in typing so you should also take typing or keyboarding classes.   

Postsecondary Education

A high school diploma is required to become an emergency services dispatcher. Some dispatchers choose to earn degrees in emergency management.

In some states, newly hired dispatchers must complete 40 or more hours of on-the-job training that covers topics such as computer-aided dispatch software, local geography, agency protocols, standard operating procedures, and how to deal with high-risk situations such as suicidal callers and child abductions. Many employers also require ESDs to have training in first aid and CPR.


Some community colleges offer certificates in emergency dispatch. Typical courses include Introduction to Criminal Justice, Policing Systems, Emergency Dispatching, and Stress Management. Contact schools in your area to learn about available programs.   

Other Education or Training

APCO International and NENA aprovide continuing education opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

APCO International offers the Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) certification course. The online and in-person course covers topics such as EMD roles and responsibilities, obtaining information from callers, legal and liability issues, anatomy and physiology, chief complaint types, and stress management. During the in-person class sessions, students practice with their agency’s EMD guide cards via simulated EMD calls. APCO International also offers certification programs in fire service communications, law enforcement communications, public safety telecommunication, and other areas.

NENA offers the emergency number professional credential to those who meet education and experience requirements and pass an examination. The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch offers a variety of certification courses for dispatchers and managers. Some agencies have their own certification programs. 

Other Requirements

A background check, which may include a drug test, is often required for emergency services dispatchers. Most employers require dispatchers to be U.S. citizens, and some jobs require a driver’s license. Some employers may also require hearing and vision tests to ensure dispatchers can properly field calls and coordinate the emergency response.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

At least one year of experience (e.g., internship, part-time job, volunteering) in emergency services is recommended for aspiring dispatchers, but it is not required.

The work of ESDs is demanding and the stakes are high, so you will need to be extremely calm, collected, and decisive under pressure. Callers are going through some of the worst times in their lives, and are often stressed, angry, irrational, despondent, or simply upset and unable to provide key details to the dispatcher that will help them coordinate emergency services. You should also be an excellent communicator, including having good listening skills. Other important traits include empathy, patience, exceptional information management and time-management skills, good judgement, and the ability to multitask.