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Dispatcher vs. 911 Operator: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Dispatchers and 911 operators are two public safety positions that are essential for keeping communities safe. Both roles require excellent communication and multitasking skills, but there are several key differences between the two. In this article, we discuss the job duties, education requirements and salary information for dispatchers and 911 operators.

What is a Dispatcher?

Dispatchers are responsible for coordinating the activities of public safety personnel, such as police officers, firefighters and ambulance crews. They receive and process emergency and non-emergency calls, then provide the appropriate level of response based on the situation. Dispatchers also maintain contact with field personnel to ensure they are safe and aware of any changes in the situation. In some cases, Dispatchers may provide instructions to callers on how to handle a situation until help arrives. Dispatchers typically work in a central location, such as a police station or fire department, where they have access to the necessary resources.

What is a 911 Operator?

911 Operators are responsible for responding to emergency calls and dispatching first responders to the scene. They collect information from the caller to determine the nature of the emergency and the best course of action. 911 Operators must be able to stay calm and think clearly in high-pressure situations. They also enter information into a computer-aided dispatch system which creates a record of the call and sends the appropriate responders. 911 Operators often provide callers with instructions on how to handle the emergency until help arrives.

Dispatcher vs. 911 Operator

Here are the main differences between a dispatcher and a 911 operator.

Job Duties

Dispatchers and 911 operators fulfill similar job duties, but the specific tasks they perform may differ. A dispatcher receives incoming calls from individuals who need assistance and relays that information to first responders. They also receive outgoing calls from first responders regarding updates on active missions and relay that information to individuals awaiting assistance.

911 operators answer incoming calls and provide emergency support services to callers in need. They often work with emergency response teams to help callers locate resources and provide emotional support during stressful situations.

Job Requirements

Dispatchers and 911 operators typically need at least a high school diploma, although some employers prefer candidates with an associate degree or higher. Many community colleges offer certificate programs specifically in emergency dispatch, which can be helpful for those hoping to enter the field. These programs often include coursework on topics like radio procedures, call-taking techniques and map reading. Some dispatchers and 911 operators also choose to earn certifications through professional organizations like the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) or the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).

Work Environment

Dispatchers and 911 operators work in different environments. Dispatchers typically work in offices, where they use computers to communicate with drivers and coordinate their routes. They may also travel to meet drivers at the beginning or end of a shift.

911 operators usually work in call centers, which can be located in police stations, hospitals or fire departments. These professionals spend most of their time on their feet, answering calls from people who need emergency assistance.


Dispatchers and 911 operators need to have several similar skills to perform their jobs, such as excellent communication, strong multitasking abilities and the ability to stay calm under pressure. Both types of professionals need to be able to quickly assess a situation and provide clear instructions.

However, there are some differences in the specific skills that each type of professional uses. For example, dispatchers often need to use computer-aided dispatch systems to track calls and input data. They also may need to use mapping software to determine the best route for emergency responders. 911 operators typically need to have a thorough understanding of the area they are covering and may need to use multiple phone lines at once to coordinate with different agencies.


Dispatchers and 911 operators have similar job duties, but they work in different environments. Dispatchers work in a variety of industries, while 911 operators work in the public safety field. Dispatchers earn an average salary of $45,774 per year, while 911 operators earn an average salary of $49,177 per year.


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