Career Match: Public Safety Dispatcher

With the variety of positions available within the public safety sector, there are a few that speak directly to a veteran’s unique skills and training. We asked Krystal Heslip, Selena Vasquez, and supervisor, Lora Smoot of the Communications Center from the Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department to share their career journey and experiences.

The Public Safety Dispatcher Career Path and Responsibility

Like the military, to work in public safety means to serve your community. At the Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department, our mission is to provide the highest quality of public service through crime prevention, homeland security, and quality of life for our communities. As a member of the Harbor Police Department, you are always expected to stand At the Ready, whatever the situation, whatever the threat.

Communications center supervisor of 19 years, Lora Smoot, encapsulates the role and expectation of the Harbor Police Department simply, “Our department is unique in the fact that we are police officers and marine firefighters. Our jurisdiction includes an international airport, San Diego Bay, and the land surrounding San Diego Bay. We work for the Port of San Diego which is a special district and includes responses to five different cities.”

This expectation and sense of responsibility extends to each member of the Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department, especially the communications center. As one of the first to hear and respond to an emergency, the responsibility of a communications center dispatcher is to be at the ready and receptive to each call for help, quickly evaluate for emergencies or non-emergencies, and ensure appropriate communications and tools are dispatched to the correct parties so the caller gets taken care of.

Lora emphasizes, “Dispatchers need to be highly adaptable, understanding, and have compassion. When someone calls 9-1-1, you [dispatchers] are their lifeline to bringing them through their emergency. Dispatchers are the calm voice on the other end of the phone or radio.”

A Day in the Life of a Dispatcher

With this in mind, we asked communication center dispatchers, Selena and Krystal, to chime in and share what a day in this role looks like for them.

Selena states, “A day as a dispatcher can be great, fun, stressful and chaotic all in the same day, sometimes within a matter of minutes. You never know what type of call you’re going to get, so you always need to be at the ready.

Krystal reinforces this and expands upon the sentiment with her own experiences and thoughts, “Every day is different! Being a dispatcher means that I am the first, first-responder. People call in for so many different situations, and I get to be the voice that greets them and helps them.

Sometimes I get to help people with questions they have, other times I make sure they receive medical aid, and there are also people I talk through a crisis with and help get them the assistance they need.

Working as a dispatcher means I get to keep the officers safe as they respond to the community, and I get to help keep the community safe by getting them the help they need. There are never two days that are the same, and I love that! It is a profession that allows for continual growth, development, and learning.”

Much like the individual reasons for joining the military, for many, the path to public safety isn’t always straightforward. When asked about how she found her way to the dispatcher career path, Lora cites the death of her mother as the turning point that motivated her to seek a career in public safety. “My personality is a lot like my mom’s, deal with the emergency at hand, deal with your emotions later. A couple of months after her passing I felt like I needed a life change.

While attending college classes, it was suggested that I work with people and with a government organization. On multiple government websites, 9-1-1 dispatcher seemed interesting. I scheduled a sitalong and the rest is history. I have been in this career for 19 years and am currently the supervisor.”

For many, a career in public safety has also proven to be fulfilling and rewarding. Selena reflects, “Becoming a Public Safety Dispatcher has helped me grow in so many ways. I have become more responsible, knowledgeable, and wise. It has helped me grow into a better role model for my son. I’ve also learned so much about the city I’m working in, and how much more goes on [in the city] than you normally would hear about as a regular citizen not involved with law enforcement. It’s exciting and fun but can be stressful at times.” She emphasizes, “The dispatcher career is not for everyone, but you’ll never know if it’s for you until you try it. The training you obtain to become a dispatcher is amazing and creates a better you that you never knew existed. You’re given an opportunity to make a difference with every shift.”

When it comes to transitioning from military service to civilian life, the public safety industry is a great option. If you are interested in learning more about working with the Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department, visit our website at