Reclassification Is Up To Us

Ty Wooten

Ty Wooten

Guest Writer

Close your eyes and imagine with me: Picture the celebrations echoing throughout the U.S. when we are notified of the passage of the 911 Saves Act, the bipartisan resolution introduced by Rep. Norma Torres, a former 911 public safety dispatcher, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent. Can you see the smiles, the high fives in the Emergency Communication Centers (ECCs), and the incredible onslaught of social media posts like I can? It would be an amazing day!

Unfortunately, we have imagined these celebrations in the past, and we have been repeatedly disappointed. Each time, we’ve been told next year would be the year, to no avail.

We can’t give up hope, but the years we have invested in this cause have led me to recognize that expecting the work to be done for us is thinking that “pushing the easy button” will bring trickle-down results. The truth is that relying on a congressional-led route hasn’t gotten us anywhere, and pinning our hopes on that is denying our own responsibility.

The efforts of local and state agencies who have brought heightened awareness to the overhaul of reclassifying 911 professionals as a protective service are to be commended. These efforts raise awareness of what 911 professionals do daily across the U.S. and worldwide.

But here’s the rub: If your local jurisdiction defers to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) to determine the salary of public safety telecommunication personnel, state recognition is a great start that sadly doesn’t equate to much. You’ll still be paid as a clerk, regardless of the professional title the state deems worthy. It’s a classic example of the “Put your money where your mouth is” conundrum.

Our 911 professionals are putting forth efforts to train, utilize several technologies, qualify for certification, maintain that certification through continuing education, and uphold an oath in a capacity where lives are on the line, their line. If their title recognizes a higher regard for their contribution, their salary should as well.

Salary is just one reason for reclassification; recognition is another. No matter what it may mean to me, or to you, we must all recognize that the only true path for reclassification is through the statistical process. That’s where the important work must be done by the most affected people, EACH OF YOU!

As its name implies, the BLS is purely a statistical organization, and this is a numbers game where we MUST be willing participants. The BLS requires a random sample selected out of roughly 5,400 ECCs nationwide to prove the distinction of the professionalism we already provide but do not accurately document.

We can hope the BLS will happen to randomly select ECCs that have already done the work to demonstrate the professional expectations of our emergency dispatchers in the realm of public safety, but hope alone is not a strategy. It boils down to this: If ECCs and 911 professionals want to see change, they MUST be part of that change.

You may ask, “What do we need to do, and where do we start?” First, you should visit 911.gov and download the Public Safety Telecommunicator Reclassification toolkit. The toolkit is a playbook for every center to prove to the BLS that any sample they review demonstrates a cohesive quality advancement in the field of emergency dispatch. We must first begin individually and then commit to a united purpose. As an African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” so after you have done the work, encourage your colleagues and neighboring agencies to do the hard work, too. 

Two key steps toward reclassification

Developing accurate job descriptions

The first step is to update emergency dispatcher job descriptions to reflect modern requirements. During the last review for reclassification, we found that many of the job descriptions examined were older than those reviewing them. They hadn’t been updated in decades!

Based on the basic duties of an emergency dispatcher  30 years ago, with complete disregard for the progress and protocol that have evolved in that timeframe, it’s fair to see why those uninvolved in the advancement of 911 would appropriately classify those outdated responsibilities as clerical.

Unfortunately, these outdated descriptions paint the picture of an emergency dispatcher sitting at a console, ready to take calls without software capability, knowledge to communicate with responders via technology, compliance to protocol, or provision of critical Pre-Arrival and Post-Dispatch Instructions that have become an industry standard.

Just as the technology of the telephone has advanced in the last 30 years, the position of an emergency dispatcher is now the latest sleek smartphone with multiple cameras, GPS, facial recognition, and enhanced capabilities, yet still described at the level of a corded home phone with a few speed dial buttons. This is an unacceptable acknowledgment of how far we’ve come in the profession, service, and capability of 911 today.

Establishing or expanding training

The second step is to properly detail the training requirements of emergency dispatchers. Without complete training programs that establish the additional components of certification, recertification, and continuing dispatch education our personnel achieve and maintain, we appear to be staffing a team of uninformed headsets. We'll remain stuck in our current classification until ECCs statistically prove otherwise.


When these two steps of accurate job descriptions and recognized training are combined, it becomes inarguable that the reclassification of the 911 professional is not only necessary but long overdue.

For reclassification efforts to succeed, we must work diligently to ensure the required statistical numbers. The steps ahead are achievable, measurable, and immediate. As Benjamin Franklin asked himself each morning, “What good shall I do this day?” I urge you to do the good that will be for your good.

Be an advocate in your center, ensure that you take these first two steps toward reclassification, and let’s be recognized for the advancement and professionalism that emergency dispatchers already provide to those who need it now.

Public Safety Telecommunicator Reclassification Toolkit

A four-part Public Safety Telecommunicator Reclassification toolkit is designed to help Emergency Communication Centers address the changes the Bureau of Labor Statistics needs to see to reclassify emergency dispatchers: https://www.911.gov/projects/telecommunicator-job-reclassification/