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A dispatcher is someone who handles the flow of information, people, and equipment from a centralized headquarters. Some of the most well-known dispatchers are the emergency dispatchers who answer the phone when someone calls for the police, the fire department, or medical assistance. Dispatch work is quite varied, often requiring a very flexible schedule and the ability to tolerate strange shift hours, because dispatch centers need to be able to respond 24 hours a day.
One of the key roles of a dispatcher is in the management of people and equipment. Dispatchers have to determine who and what to send where, and when. They must organize schedules, be knowledgeable about how long jobs are going to take, and keep track of people who are out working in the field. Dispatchers also keep track of a great deal of information, and communicate information as needed as part of their duties.
Emergency dispatchers handle requests for emergency assistance. In some cities, dispatch for all emergency services is in the same location, so that when someone calls for the police after a car accident, the dispatcher can easily deploy ambulances and fire trucks as well, if necessary. These dispatchers are responsible for collecting the particulars from the person who phones in, and relaying them to emergency services so what they know what to prepare for.
Dispatchers can also work in the transportation sector, coordinating the schedules of trains, buses, boats, and airplanes, as well as dispatching taxicabs and private cars by request from customers. Others may handle services, such as calls from customers experiencing problems with their phones, electrical power, television signal, and so forth.
Most dispatcher facilities utilize computer programs to coordinate dispatch work. These programs help dispatchers track the available teams and equipment they have, and the program can also be used to enter data which will be relayed directly to someone in the field. For example, an ambulance dispatcher might note that the patient appears to be having a heart attack, which will trigger an alert so that the ambulance crew know that the situation is critical. Crews can also communicate in the field with their computers, providing information like time estimates so that dispatchers know when they will be available for another job.
The education level required to become a dispatcher is fairly minimal, with most companies requiring a high school diploma, and completion of the company's dispatcher training course. People who have extensive knowledge of the cities where they plan to work, along with the industries they want to work in, will be more appealing as candidates because they will be able to quickly fit into the flow of dispatching. This kind of work can be ideal for people who like unconventional working schedules and are meticulous with details and information management.