BackBlogs by Prepared
April 27, 2022
Justin Henning

Three ways to become a better 911 dispatcher

In my last post, I discussed five tips for new dispatchers. I’ll assume you’ve taken those tips to heart and put them into action. In this article, we’ll move on to the meat and potatoes of doing the actual job itself!  Here are three tips for honing in your craft during your first couple months on the job:

1. Develop “Dispatcher Ears”

When you first get in the chair, callers and radio traffic may sound like a foreign language to you. It might seem like everyone is talking too fast or like the audio cuts in and out. That doesn’t make you a worse dispatcher or mean you won’t succeed; in fact, its normal. You just need to develop what we call your “dispatcher ears.”

There are a lot of ways to do this - but you have to be willing to put in the time. Like learning any new language, one of the best ways to do it is to immerse yourself. The easiest way to immerse is to listen to scanners, scanner apps, and YouTube recordings of calls.

Next, while hearing how others handle certain radio traffic, simultaneously have a conversation or watch TV. Try to pay attention to what’s happening on TV, or in the conversation, and what is happening on the radio calls.

This practice builds your ears, your ability to multitask, and your ability absorb important information and ignore irrelevant details. These are three essential capabilities of the modern dispatcher.

2. Learn your geography

Another common issue that young dispatchers have is struggling to understand the geography of their area. Whether it’s general geography, understanding streets and intersections, or not properly recognizing license plates, there are a variety of challenges to getting to grips with your community.

The easiest way to address this issue is to go out and drive around. As you drive:

  1. Say every intersection you approach out loud;
  2. Recite what jurisdiction it is in.

Doing this repeatedly so you physically see these places helps you develop a mental image. As a next step, add in a GPS system or navigation app so you can see what the intersection looks like on a map simultaneously.

The more you do these tasks and familiarize yourself with your territory, the better you will be able to assist your field units. This will also make it easier to understand a unit when the provided information isn’t entirely clear.

3. Practice your protocols

Once you start feeling comfortable with locations, it’s time to add in the next step: start phonetically reading off each license plate you see. This will help you to learn the phonetic alphabet and also how different license plates are set up and arranged.

Once you feel confident, the final step is to be able to recite how your standard traffic stop is handled in your jurisdiction. Here, I encourage you to:

  1. Practice;
  2. Practice some more;
  3. Take a break;
  4. Continue practicing until you have it down pat.

Never stop learning and never stop improving.

Some of these tasks and practices may seem repetitive; that's okay, they're supposed to be. In every field, mastery only comes through consistent repetition. Master these three tips and you’re well on your way to building a solid foundation as part of the thin gold line.