Reclassifying Emergency Communications: Proposed Legislation May Support Retention Efforts

Crafted with emergency communications in mind, the 911 SAVES Act—currently under review by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs—would change the standard occupational classification (SOC) of dispatchers and communication specialists from “administrative support occupations” to “protective service occupations (PSOs).”

From an administrative perspective, this would bring emergency communication professionals closer in line with other public safety professionals. At a high level, the change could bring several notable benefits, such as:

  • A more accurate classification
  • Recalculated work periods under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA)
  • Increased contributions to retirement and pension plans
  • Earlier retirements

Beyond these obvious benefits to the individuals, the reclassification may also allow emergency communication centers and PSAPs to more effectively recruit and retain their personnel.

Benefit 1: Overtime flexibility

Public safety professionals work long shifts and odd hours, making it hard to schedule and operate under the standard 40-hours-per-seven-days rule—the reason the Fair Labor Standards Act makes exceptions for law enforcement and firefighting professionals.

By categorizing emergency communication specialists as PSOs, the change would effectively include group communicators in the 207(k) exemption that fire and law enforcement agencies use.

Therefore, overseeing organizations would have much more flexibility in grouping, qualifying, and scheduling based upon factors like overtime—with more consistency between both on-scene responders and the data analyzing, info-dispensing professionals providing their working intelligence.

The retention benefits

Emergency communication centers happy with their current 40-hour/seven-day arrangement can keep it as-is; others with more complex needs will now be able to explore options that keep the organization working at its best and its people happier.

Because organizations can be more flexible with their day-to-day scheduling options (12-hour shifts instead of 8, for instance), employees will typically enjoy the greater flexibility as well.

Benefit 2: More training and health resources

Those working in public safety naturally need more supporting resources in their day-to-day career than the average employee. In recognition of this, the government tends to better fund training and other support resources for these organizations.

Reclassification of emergency communications could allow access to better insurance rates, more grant dollars, and other subsidies and sources of funding.

In one Versailles Republican piece, a dispatcher suggests that this relatively simple classification change could open the door to better physical and mental health benefits. This is essential in keeping employees healthy and more productive in their roles, as well as reducing the risk and impact of PTSD in organizations.

The retention benefits

PTSD and associated conditions such as compassion fatigue can wreak havoc on workplace morale, which makes the training and health benefits the 911 SAVES Act may bring very helpful in combating the issues that cause job burnout and undermine retention.

Benefit 3: Stronger hiring standards

With a more consistent definition of who emergency communicators are and what they can do in the workplace, emergency communications centers can naturally field a stronger crop of applicants.

That’s a major benefit for centers themselves, which stand to benefit from the long-term effects of a strong workforce—but it’s just as beneficial for employees, who tend to stick around longer when they feel they’re surrounded by competent people.

The retention benefits

By using the classification to reduce turnover, provide better training, and expect more from the people they hire, centers can offer their new employees a more positive work environment.


While the 911 SAVES Act promises to alleviate some of the emergency communication industry’s retention challenges, the bill hasn’t passed yet.

Luckily, there are other ways to give emergency communicators the respect and practical benefits a change in classification would bring.

In some locales—Arapahoe and Pitkin counties in Colorado, for instance—local governments are already going out of their way to classify communicators as responders. Certain states, such as Kansas, have followed suit, with laws explicitly providing dispatchers and others the classification they deserve.

Above all, organizations can continue to support emergency communicators by providing consistent positive recognition, identifying employees who need more support, and fostering a great workplace culture.

Interested in more articles for emergency communication professionals?

Posted on Aug 10, 2021