Its a busy world on the comm floor, and its important to speak the language! While every agency may use different 10-codes and abbreviations, this quick list of key words can give you a head start. Use them to impress your trainer, or just to keep up when your dispatcher friends start ranting.
(Disclaimer: these are very broad, high-level definitions, described in my own words as I would to a friend or family member.)
PSAP – Public Safety Answering Point: A communications center that receives 911 calls.
TCO – Telecommunications Operator: Typically “floor” dispatchers (non-training, non-supervising dispatchers)- although you may have a different official title depending on agency/job duties. One alternative is ‘PSCO’ – Public Safety Communications Operator.)
CTO – Communications Training Officer: Trainer of TCO’s, PSCO’s, etc.
ANI/ALI – Automatic Number Identification/Automatic Location Identification: This information will likely come across through the screen associated with the phone system. This information may include the phone number, the service provider, what kind of line it is, latitude/longitude information, the address associated with it, etc.
CAD – Computer Aided Dispatch: Typically a software program that aids in managing calls for service, unit dispatching, etc. Will vary in complexity.
10-Codes – A set of codes used by some agencies as a substitute for saying particular words or phrases, primarily over the radio. Some agencies use them, some don’t, and there is not a standard. One common 10-code is “10-4” – which is usually meant as an affirmation or acknowledgement of the previous traffic (depending on context).
EMD – Emergency Medical Dispatch: In the movies, when the 911 dispatcher is giving CPR instructions, or talking someone through delivering a baby? That type of activity is a part of standardized EMD. Some agencies use standardized protocol for assessing a medical situation over the phone, and giving “pre-arrival” instructions (while waiting for the arrival of EMS responders). Some agencies do not give medical instructions, but will connect the caller with an agency that does (typically the agency that dispatches out the ambulance).
APCO – Association of Public Safety Communications Officials–
An international professional organization – dispatchers often have training through APCO.
NENA – National Emergency Number Association – An association focused on 911-related issues primarily in the US/Canada.
Speaking of NENA – if you’re hungry for more dispatch vocabulary, check out the NENA Master Glossary. There is quite a bit of information elsewhere on their website, so be sure to bookmark it for one of those rabbit-hole career-research nights.
Call note policies and procedures will be different from agency to agency (and sometimes from shift to shift). There are often abbreviations used in the interest of fast, concise data entry. Here are a few commonly used abbreviations- but confirm with your trainer/agency, again – these vary!
adv = advise / advised
lts = left the scene / leaving the scene
dot = direction of travel
ls = last seen
xfer = transfer
xport = transport
hx = history
When I was in training, I made flashcards just like I was taking a college course. Whether you are the one entering call notes or interpreting the notes to air information over the radio, it is critical to understand what your agency’s codes and abbreviations mean.