What does a 911 Dispatcher do?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2019
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A 911 dispatcher is responsible for getting the appropriate response to the site of an emergency as quickly as possible after someone calls 911, the emergency telephone number in the United States, Canada and some other countries. The 911 dispatcher must accurately gather information from the caller in order to pass it on to the responding unit. Dispatchers must then select the most appropriate unit available and pass this information along.

When a member of the public dials 911, it usually is because of a serious crisis. Quite often, calls literally are a matter of life and death. The individual often is distressed, maybe in shock, and might find it difficult to pass on even the simplest details.

A 911 dispatcher frequently will need to calm the person to gather any useful information. Without details such as the nature of the emergency and the location, no response is possible. It is up to the 911 dispatcher to ensure that the caller is able to pass on all relevant information.

The dispatcher then contacts the appropriate unit to respond to the emergency. It is up to the 911 dispatcher to determine what level of response is appropriate for a given emergency. For instance, both a domestic kitchen fire and a forest fire would require firefighters, but the severity and scope of each emergency demands different levels of response.


Frequently, emergency response units are not waiting in a station for a call. Tracking units in the community is another responsibility of the dispatcher. Units call in regularly to keep the dispatcher up to date on their current location and availability. When a 911 call comes in, the dispatcher is then able to select the nearest available unit and thus reduce the response time.

Information is tracked by extensive recordkeeping. The dispatcher is required to log all calls, recording all of the pertinent details. Information from response units, such as a patient’s condition, also is recorded. Dispatchers have to keep track of the location and status of all units in the area as well, with regular updates as conditions change.

The dispatcher often might be required to prioritize calls. When resources are overstretched, the 911 dispatcher must decide which emergency gets immediate attention. Large-scale, life-and-death emergencies typically take precedence. Some emergencies are more time sensitive than others, though, and the dispatcher might decide to respond to the more pressing issues first.

Dispatchers also will receive several non-emergency calls over the course of a day. Individuals might be trying to contact the local police station or hospital. Non-emergency calls for information such as road conditions also might be redirected from other lines. Typically, these calls are dealt with quickly, either by providing the requested information or by giving the caller a non-emergency phone number, such as the local fire station, police station or hospital, where any questions can be addressed.


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