A 911 operator is a specialized type of phone dispatcher who answers calls to emergency services. 911 is the universal emergency services number in the United States; outside the United States, operators may answer calls to emergency services numbers such as 111, 112, or 999. 911 operators are responsible for answering calls to the emergency services phone number and making sure that callers get the services and assistance they need.
With a universal emergency phone number, people who need help from the fire department, police force, or ambulance service can call a single number which is easy to remember, rather than having to look up individual phone numbers. Universal numbers are also convenient for travelers who need assistance but may not be familiar with emergency numbers. However, having all emergency services calls routed to 911 means that a skilled operator needs to be available to answer the phone.
911 operators typically work eight to 10 hour shifts in a dispatch center, and they may work with a group of dispatchers to ensure that the line is never busy when people call. When the phone rings and a 911 operator answers, he or she determines the nature of the emergency, and dispatches emergency services as needed. For example, on a medical aid call where someone calls to report a broken limb, the 911 operator would determine which ambulance service should respond to the call, and dispatch an ambulance. If a caller reports a traffic accident, the operator might send out a fire truck, police car, and ambulance to ensure that the situation is fully covered. Dispatchers also talk with emergency responders at the scene so that they can dispatch additional responders as necessary.
Skilled 911 operators can be in high demand. A good 911 operator can extract necessary information from callers quickly and efficiently, keep callers calm and update them on the status of the emergency services they have dispatched, and coach callers on interventions such as how to perform CPR. The 911 operator needs to be able to handle a wide variety of situations, and stay cool, calm, and collected throughout.
911 operators usually need to be familiar with computer systems which are used to log calls and dispatch emergency services. They are also trained to deal with issues like prank calls and hangups, which still require a response. These dispatch professionals may need to be able to work with several computer and phone systems to coordinate emergency responses, and they need to be familiar with topics like cell phone calls which are routed to the wrong dispatch center, staffing allotments at various emergency services agencies, and how to handle non-emergency calls which end up at the 911 dispatch center, such as noise complaints.