Tag Archives: training

Dumb desperation?

This is doubling as my mid-semester self-pep-talk as I am torn between daily apathy and anxiety.

I came across a phrase this year that resonated with me in a way that I haven’t experienced since I was about 14 years old. The brain spark that fires when you’re expanding your vocabulary, learning a language, and improving your ability to express your thoughts and feelings to others. That phrase is self-efficacy. Its a bit lofty sounding, I’ll admit, but as I absorbed its meaning I realized that I knew its meaning all along. The fact that it was so concisely summed up is what struck me. (Word nerd, right here.)

I stumbled across this phrase in a textbook I was reading for an undergraduate class I am taking this semester. The significance of my enrollment an undergraduate program involves the fact that I was home-schooled for 3 years, never finished the 8th grade, and never attended high school. I was an unreported runaway working two jobs at 16, researched where I could take the GED test at 17, and promptly enrolled at the local community college. In hindsight, knowing the compromises that I faced, I have wondered how I survived. Fast forward to today, and – ah ha! Call it dumb desperation, but it suddenly clicked in my mind that what I had was self-efficacy. When I have struggled, it is because my self-efficacy was shaken.

This concept connects with almost every experience in my life, and likely yours as well. Self-efficacy is as simple as the story of The Little Engine That Could, and so popular that you’ll find an infinite number of quotes, memes, books, and posters shouting the importance of believing in yourself.

Okay, I’ll bring it back around to dispatching: the training experience (and daily experience, for that matter) of being a dispatcher has posed a fierce challenge to my personal efficacy. One of the dispatcher supervisors (who had done my background check) even laid it out for me during a board interview, when I asked what they thought I would have the hardest time with. She said, “You seem like kind of person who is used to being good at everything you try your hand at — but you’re not going to be good at this for a long time.” (Cue wide-eyed gulp.)

The reason I want to bring up this topic on this blog is because it truly is the key to being a successful dispatcher – both learning the job and doing it right. I’m bringing it up because it is so important to keep at the forefront of my mind as both a learner and as a trainer. But even if you decide to go do something else, you should keep in mind that your greatest predictor of success in life is your attitude towards it. If you proceed into dispatching, or any great challenge in life, perhaps this psychology-reminder will help you prepare and press through. If you find yourself in a negative tailspin, recognize it for what it is, and the affect that your mentality can have moving forward. If you are struggling, be resourceful. Own up to your maxed-out-ed-ness (I say to myself), practice self-care, and keep your chin up.

In all of this, I stumbled across a great blog that succinctly lays out important things you should know about self-efficacy and how to wield it. See Tiffany Brown’s Self-Efficacy.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
-Henry Ford


Image from MyBurnoutThing.com.

*Because I believe in keeping a humorous balance, I am choosing to also include this cartoon, with hopes that it does not undercut any of the above sincere statements. The reality is that working in emergency communications is not for everyone, and that’s okay!


Hard skills

Of all that will be asked of you as a new dispatcher, there are certain skills you’d be wise to have as you walk in the door. Typing and computer navigation are absolutely critical to the timely processing of calls for service in emergency communications. If you had to call 911, would you like for your call-taker to be hunting and pecking on the keyboard, using precious moments as they click…. tap-tap-tap…. click…. click….? I don’t think so.

Potential dispatchers – this is for you. Using a quick online search, I compiled a list of online typing development and testing resources that I would highly recommend you consider in your quest into the world of emergency communications. Before we get to that, I just want to establish two key abbreviations you’ll see- wpm and kph. Most folks are familiar with wpm – words per minute. This is a measurement of standard typing speed when tested with words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, etc. Kph is keystrokes per hour, often used with data entry testing, and reflects testing with numbers, punctuation, letters, or a combination of everything. Just a high-level explanation there, moving on…

The agencies that you apply to work with may or may not have a posted minimum typing speed. Many agencies use a software platform that has a typing test built into the overall program (i.e. CritiCall). I don’t have the typing rubric for Critical testing, and it may be customized per agency. The agency that I work for lists 45 wpm as the minimum for our call-takers and dispatchers, but we do not list a minimum kph. For comparison, however, the dispatchers that I work with (myself included) type 60+ mph, some 75+ mph, and generally 10,000+ kph. Take a quick test, see how you do!

Steps to Becoming a 911 Dispatcher (good general information)

Click here for more information about how to prepare for CritiCall testing.

Key Terminology


Found on https://ifunny.co/ via GIS.

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.