If you’ve never applied for a government job, let me tell you what kind of a treat you’re in for!
It’s always a long game. The shortest government job process I ever had was for a school district job, which still involved three interviews and three weeks, plus fingerprinting and a background check.
911 dispatchers, at least in Washington State, go through everything a sworn police officer does, minus the police academy. Fingerprinting, medical check, psychological check, drug test, background check, polygraph test—it’s a lot. I had to go get fingerprinted again this weekend and I have to take the physical and drug test again tomorrow.
I’ve been working on entering this field for almost a year now. If anyone is interested, I thought I’d share what things I did to help get me prepared.
1. The police phonetic alphabet. They vary slightly from state to state, so find the one used in your area. My new agency was very explicit that I was “not to use the NATO phonetic alphabet.”
2. Read up on your new profession.
Master the Public Safety Dispatcher/911 Operator Exam – A solid enough guide to help you get ready for the CritiCall or Public Safety Testing exam.
The Resilient 911 Professional – A great primer on what sort of issues dispatchers face and strategies you might employ to deal with them.
The Healthy Dispatcher’s Guide to Stress – Still useful, but not as comprehensive as the book above it. Pick the other one if you’re on a budget, but this was a decent read.
Becoming an Exemplary Public Safety Dispatcher – A freebie! I actually downloaded this from a government archive and found it quite worthwhile to read.
3. Watch videos. There’s a lot in the way of example videos put up by different agencies, plus many others by actual dispatchers. As long as you’re social distancing, might as well be productive at it.
4. Sit-alongs. These require permission from an agency and as I write these words, we’re smack in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Still, there’s little better to prepare you for actual dispatching than seeing it firsthand and talking with the professionals who do it every day.
5. FEMA’s ICS/NIMS courses. It was news to me, but the Incident Command System is a national standard in public safety and the core principles are used each day. Take all the free classes (you’ll need to register to get an ID number). Most need an hour or two, but it’s something you can add to your arsenal when the interviewer asks what you’ve done to prepare yourself for a career as a dispatcher.
I hope this might be useful to you. When I started out, I had to hunt it down, but I love research and learning, so it’s fun for me. Drop me a comment with your own suggestions. I’d love to check them out!