Minimum training standards for telecommunicators will improve emergency response

When you dial 911, you are connected with someone who is able to provide emergency services to you in your time of need, but this ability hinges on specific experiences and training that enable them to react effectively.

Telecommunicators are often thought of as the “first, first responder.” They collect sufficient information from calls in order to get the proper response to the emergency at hand. One might presume there is a great deal of training and education that precedes procuring a job as a telecommunicator. While that may be true, a standard level of training is rarely required for employment.

Few states have minimum training standards

To gain perspective on entering the profession, we met with Amy Seidler, who served as a 911 telecommunicator for 13 years. We found that when she started, she had little knowledge of the public safety sector—having never dialed 911—and had little understanding of how the process worked.

Upon being hired at her first public safety answering point (PSAP), she was given the standard operating procedures and given time to read through those resources. Once completed, Amy was sent to shadow one of the seasoned employees, who had significant experience and knowledge, for a few weeks. During that time, she also began answering administrative calls.

Because the PSAP was understaffed, it wasn’t long before she was answering the 911 lines, with observation of other telecommunicators to guide her further. While she did not necessarily feel prepared, it was important that emergency calls be answered. Her first 911 call came just two weeks after starting employment, and Amy did not feel prepared for that call.

While training for telecommunicators varies, only 18 states in the U.S. have some form of minimum training standards. Of those, only a few have a regimented training process that relies on a certification program, such as those offered by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) or the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch (NAEMD). Both of these programs have 40 hours of structured classroom training. In Indiana, for example, the requirement is a 24-hour course to receive Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) certification.


Tragedy inspires a call to action

Florida is one of the states with a training standard for telecommunicators. In fact, Florida requires licensure for public safety telecommunicators that includes participation in a 232-hour certification program and adheres to the Public Safety Telecommunication Curriculum Framework, as defined by the Florida Department of Education (FDE). Certifications must be renewed every two years, which requires 20 hours of continuing education to meet the standards set by the FDE.

The Florida standards were enacted after a tragic incident in 2008. A young mother was kidnapped from her home in the middle of the day.

In the ensuing hours, several 911 calls were made by passers-by, witnesses, and Denise herself. One of those calls, answered by the 911 PSAP within the sheriff’s office where Denise’s dad is a deputy, was from a witness who gave detailed and up-to-date information as she followed the kidnapper’s vehicle.

In an interview after the event, authorities revealed that the call was never dispatched to officers who were in that area and actively searching for Denise. Subsequently, three days after being taken from her home, Denise’s body was recovered from an area not far from where that 911 caller lost sight of the vehicle.

A coalition develops training requirements

In April of 2013, Laurie Flaherty with the National 911 Office put out a call to for key 911 professionals to gather and discuss the need for developing a national guideline for telecommunicator training. The goal of the coalition was to produce a document to serve as a “universally accepted minimum” training and education document for telecommunicators.

During this meeting in Washington D.C., the attendees developed an outline for the base guideline, identified stakeholders, and set a timeline for completion. The stakeholders for the standard comprise a diverse representation of those with a vested interest in the 911 profession, including various PSAPs, APCO, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the National Emergency Numbers Association (NENA).

The coalition continues to meet monthly, and since 2013 has made great progress. In February of 2016, they released a draft of a working document for public comment. At the time of this publication, they are seeking industry/shareholder feedback in an attempt to ensure relevancy and applicability to the profession.

NENA’s Director of Education Ty Wooten told us the intent of a minimum training standard is to provide the floor on which PSAPs stand, not a bar for which they strive. The current certification programs provided by APCO and NAEMD both far exceed the minimum being drafted by the coalition. States utilizing these certification programs will have no issue meeting the expected standard; rather, it will serve as a foundation for those states without current minimums to begin establishing their own standards.

The necessity for a minimum standard of training for telecommunicators is clear: The primary commitment for telecommunicators is to ensure all callers are receiving a consistent level of care and emergency response. In order to promote this mission, all telecommunicators should be required to meet a set standard for training, whether that be a 40-hour certification course or a more in-depth program, like the one used by Florida. A minimum national standard helps each state to build their specific program to raise the professionalism and preparedness of telecommunicators.


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Get More Information:

Recommended Minimum Training Guidelines for the 9-1-1 Telecommunicator

National Emergency Numbers Association (NENA) – this link will direct you to the working document and instructions for comment. Comments are due March 17, 2016.

The National 911 Office

The Denise Amber Lee Foundation

Association of Public Safety Communication Official (APCO)

National Academies of Emergency Dispatch (NAEMD)

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2017-05-30T10:33:39+00:00 March 2nd, 2016|General, Local & Tribal, Public Safety, Readiness, State, Training & Equipment|