Training the New Generation Of Emergency Dispatchers

Dr. Melissa Ryan

Guest Writer

Just as emergency dispatching has changed over the years, naturally so has the emergency dispatcher.  With every new generation comes a new set of skills and challenges. Program trainers must adapt and modify their emergency dispatch programs to ensure training is efficient, effective, and appropriate for their new hires.

After training high school seniors in emergency dispatch, I have had to adjust my teaching in three areas to match their skill sets: technology, typing, and emotions.  I’ll share what I’ve learned and how to incorporate these changes into your training programs.

Those who are now entering the workforce were born in the early 2000s and grew up with computers, cell phones, and smartwatches. They have used technology most of their lives, unlike the previous generations. Therefore, it is no wonder they are fast in learning new computer applications and programs. Generally, I have found that students need to be shown a new piece of technology just a couple of times before they have mastered its use. They troubleshoot problems well and are able to effectively use new programs or applications to complete tasks. This strength can help to decrease training times and increase productivity.

Although social media can have a negative connotation, it can be an effective tool in an emergency dispatch center if used properly. Social media outlets can be used to find locations and details concerning calls for service if callers are not willing or able to provide this information. The newer generations are generally very good at navigating these platforms and know how to find hidden information.

While students are technologically savvy, they may be deficient in typing skills. Before the turn of the century, many schools taught a course on typing and computer usage. Today, this class is typically extinct across the country.  Due to the ever-evolving technology of smart phones, the newer generation is better at typing with their thumbs on a phone screen than on a computer keyboard. (Note: This is not a disadvantage as they are fast at finding information on their smart devices.) Some dispatch centers have even had to decrease their words per minute qualification in light of newer recruit typing deficits.

To combat this, the “home row” keys should be taught to trainees and sufficient time should be given to hone their typing skills. My students play typing games they find online to help improve their skill and speed. I have also suggested that they practice typing by transcribing their favorite show while they watch. This helps to not only improve their speed but their listening skills as well. As they listen to a show or movie, they have to process the words and then quickly type the conversation. 

But what about processing emotions? Emotions used to be seen as a sign of weakness. As a society, there has been a shift in the treatment of emotions and mental health. We were once taught to push our emotions down and deal with them later (or never). Today, students are taught to understand their feelings and emotions, feel them fully, and deal with them. This leads to a healthier mindset and emotional well-being. 

Increased training is needed on how to not only handle emotional callers, but emergency dispatcher emotions as well. After getting off a particularly difficult call, I would quickly go cry and return right back to my workstation to answer the next 911 call, never dealing with the emotional trauma those types of calls caused. This can lead to emergency dispatcher burnout and/or complacency. In learning how to deal with the emotions caused by these types of calls, emergency dispatchers can move past the trauma and maintain a healthy mindset and work environment.

When it comes to training, we can no longer use the excuse, “That is how we have always done it” and expect individuals to conform to outdated practices. We must grow and learn from the next generation and change our training procedures. By using the new generation’s strengths and compensating for their weaknesses, emergency dispatch centers can retain new hires and decrease training times.