Public Safety Telecommunicators Today

Today, working as a public safety telecommunicator requires a completely different professional skillset than that required in the 1970s.

The 9-1-1 professionals who answer your calls, dispatch responders, and protect lives and property undergo extensive training and/or certification, may work 12-hour shifts or longer, and have to manage and process vast amounts of information to provide the level of service that communities and their citizens have come to expect. They finish one call, often without closure or knowledge of outcomes, and must be ready to answer whatever the next call brings.

Today’s telecommunicators:

  • Get training in areas such as emergency medical dispatch, active shooter scenarios, and crisis negotiation.
  • Can give medical instructions for first aid, CPR, delivery of babies, etc.
  • Can analyze vital information directly from the scene of an auto accident through bystanders and vehicle telematics to determine whether extrication and advanced life support resources are needed.
  • Receive an overwhelming influx of reports during major incidents such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks and active shooter situations, which they must quickly triage and analyze to prevent further harm and protect field responders.
  • Can remain in contact with someone being abducted in order to detect threat-related information and use increasingly sophisticated tools for tracking the device’s location.
  • Counsel suicidal persons, domestic violence victims and children, or serve as the primary contact with a hostage taker.

Public safety telecommunicators’ work with first responders has also changed. Thirty years ago the 9-1-1 center might only know a responder was in trouble if a bystander used a landline to call them, but today the telecommunicator can use radio communications and increasingly advanced tools to monitor the safety of field responders.

As the nature of the work performed transitioned, telecommunicators have had to develop a more advanced skillset and endure vastly different stress levels. For example, because location technology is imperfect and callers are mobile, public safety telecommunicators often must use information about the caller’s surroundings, background noises and other information to find the caller, knowing that the slightest lapse in focus could make the difference between life and death.

As much as the telecommunicator’s job has changed in the past 50 years, ongoing enhancements to public safety communications technology such as Next Generation 9-1-1 and public safety broadband will produce even more dramatic changes to the way these professionals communicate with the public and first responders in the future.