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Careers in 911 Emergency Communications

Every day thousands of Pennsylvanians call or send text messages to 911 asking for help in an emergency. The person that answers that call or text is a telecommunicator – a highly trained individual responsible for getting information about your emergency, and relaying that information to the appropriate police, fire, or EMS agency.

In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 2,500 telecommunicators working at 61 county-based emergency call centers (formally known as Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs) who process nearly 14.5 million requests for emergency assistance each year.

What It Takes

Telecommunicators are the first person in a chain of responders in every emergency. When a 911 call comes in, they must quickly assess the problem to determine the appropriate type of help. Then the telecommunicator will stay on the line with the caller to keep them calm, provide any important directions (such as how to do CPR) and gather essential information to share with other telecommunicators who are dispatching the emergency responders.

At its core, 911 is essentially a profession centered on providing customer service.

Some of the qualities that 911 managers look for in a telecommunicator are:

  • The ability to multitask
  • The ability to type quickly using a standard keyboard
  • Excellent listening skills
  • The ability to speak confidently and give direction
  • The ability to handle stressful situations
  • A desire to thrive in a fast-paced environment
  • The ability to sit or stand at a workstation for long periods of time
  • The ability to think and act quickly
  • An inherent willingness to help others

If you have any of these skills, you should consider a career in 911 emergency communications! Check the employment sections of county websites found in our PSAP Directory.

Training and Certification

The path to becoming a 911 telecommunicator can only rely so much on natural skills and abilities.
PEMA is required by the 911 Emergency Communication Services Act to adopt minimum training, certification, quality assurance, and quality improvement requirements for telecommunicators. However, most of our counties have developed more robust telecommunicator training programs that meet or exceed these minimum requirements.

This training is delivered by staff at each county’s public safety answering point (PSAP) and typically runs for a period of weeks or months. And, in most instances, telecommunicators will be paid during this training.

The goal of these requirements is to ensure that personnel at the county PSAPs receive the same minimum training so that a consistent level of service is maintained throughout the commonwealth.

Some examples of topic areas in which new 911 telecommunicators will receive training include:

  • How to ask questions and manage 911 calls
  • Knowing your local geography
  • Protocols for processing EMS, fire, and law enforcement calls
  • Specialized training in areas such as CPR, missing persons, HAZMAT awareness, aircraft or marine incidents, and callers with access and functional needs

After completing the PSAP’s required training, a county PSAP can certify a telecommunicator as long as they meet the following additional criteria:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Possess a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED)
  • Be free of a criminal history that would prohibit them from successfully fulfilling all duties of the position as defined by the employer
  • Meet any additional employer-specific qualifications to be hired as a telecommunicator (e.g., pre-employment testing)

These certifications are valid for two years after issuance, and county PSAPs are required to provide a recertification and continuing education path for telecommunicators to enhance their job skills, keep up to date on emerging issues and technologies, and develop a better understanding of the industry and their roles and responsibilities.