RTO For Dummies


Written by Dispatchers for Personnel of other departments to help YOU help US.

Remember, Dispatch is required to be in game, in a corner, staring at a wall of text. We're trying to enhance realism for you. We're not asking for too much wanting you to be realistic on your side as well.


Acronyms to live by:

  • KHT = Key, Hesitate, Talk

Using this will ensure that you don’t cut off the first word of your message. Simply depress the microphone key, hesitate to the count of “one thousand one” and then talk.


  • SHR = Stop, Hesitate, Release

This does the same as KHT, but for the last word. We get a lot of calls to postal “Nine Zero Seven F-”.


  • ABC - Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity

The ABCs of radio communications relate directly to the composition of any message broadcast over the radio. Before transmitting a message, think about what you want to say and make sure you’re presenting accurate information. Try to use short sentences with a single idea in each sentence. If you lose your train of thought, or “talk yourself into a corner” stop transmitting! “Ummms” and “ahhs” sound unprofessional and should be avoided. Break your transmission with a “stand-by” alert, work out what you want to say, and start again. Basically, remember KISS, or Keep it Simple, Stupid.


“Hey you, It's ME,” method of calling.

It is important that this order is observed. If the call is made the other way round, e.g. “Me, talkin’ at YOU,” the called unit (or dispatcher) is likely to miss the call-sign of the person initiating the call. We all listen in for our callsign, but not for everyone’s. If there are several units in RTO, the listener merely knows SOMEBODY called, and unless the person knows YOUR VOICE, chances are he or she won’t be able to tell which unit wants something. (Especially if you have a habit of clipping your transmissions...)

To illustrate this concept, consider the situation of someone entering a large, crowded room full of people, all involved in various conversations already in progress. You want to catch someone’s attention across the room, so you call THAT PERSON’S NAME first and wave your hand above the crowd, announcing your own name last. “Dispatch! this is 201!”


“Pre-Alerting” Dispatch – tell us what you’re GOING to tell us

Don’t just call Dispatch on the radio and blurt out “Dispatchfrom201I’mona10-11withablueDodgeChargeroccupiedx1onPanoramanearestpostal3076”, expecting the dispatcher to be able to catch it all just like that! Just as you may be driving down the road, intent on observing a violator in front of you, or deep in interrogation with someone, the dispatchers could be doing something ELSE when you need to tell them something or ask them to do something for you. And that doesn’t mean simply calling Dispatch and giving your radio identifier, then waiting for a response. “Pre-Alert” us as to what you’re going to need, so we can prioritize our tasks. “Dispatch from 201, copy a 10-11.” PAUSE. “201, go ahead with your 10-11”. That pause gave us the chance to open the call and be ready for your fast talking skills that you love showing off.

It’s the same with Dispatch. We give YOU the chance to say “Stand by” - or stop what you’re

doing and tell us “Go ahead” when you’re ready to copy, so you should be doing the same for us. Most importantly, it means we can give you our full attention ONCE WE HAVE PUT OTHER TASKS ASIDE, first.

Dispatchers already practice “telling the field what they’re going to tell them” - they do it all the

time. Here are some examples:

  • “All units stand-by to copy BOL for Armed Robbery that just occurred.....”
  • “502, Dispatch, what’s your status?”

So, if you’re going to request something, tell us what to expect, first. Please?

The following is a small snippet of “generic” radio traffic - keep in mind that each agency has its own protocols, but this should give you an idea of the “Pre-Alert” concept at work.

“Dispatch, 680 back in service.”

“Copy 680, back in service.”

“Dispatch, 592 - please call the reporting party back and get a better location.”

“Copy 592, stand by.”

“Dispatch, 567, traffic stop.”

“567 go ahead.”

“567 on a stop, 3rd and Main, license 3ABS192, California.”

“Copy 567, 3rd and Main, 3ABS192.”

“592, Dispatch - there’s no answer at the number provided.”

“592, copy.”

......... time passes.............

“Dispatch, 567 - vehicle reg and California DL by number.” “567, California 3ABS192 is clear, I have the

reg ready when you need it. Go ahead with the DL.”

Keep in mind that we’re receiving different calls from 3 different LEO agencies, and Fire/EMS with different radio codes. We have to change back and forth to keep each person in RTO informed.

We can best serve your needs if we can get a hint of what it’s all about first, so we can juggle all the tasks and determine who gets put on hold, who is told to stand-by, and we can ’set up’ our computer screens for your request before we tell you to “go ahead.” This is to provide the best service, not to annoy you.

If you practice “Pre-Alert” procedures, to tell us what you’re GOING to tell us, we’ll be better able to serve your needs without all those annoying “Repeat your location? (or the plate, or your unit number, or the whole thing!)” transmissions.


10-Code Usage

  • Use the appropriate code, correctly
  •  If you can’t remember the correct code, use plain speech. Don’t “wing it” or guess the code to use.
  •  If you’re using radio signal codes, use the entire code: Prefix and Suffix .
  • NOTE: LSFD & SAMS do not use 10 codes. Fire/EMS use "Plain Speak" in compliance with the FEMA/NIMS/ICS protocols. 

Code prefixes help the listener switch his/her brain from casually scoping out “language” into “translate this important message” mode. You should use the whole code: the 10 and the 27.


Phonetic Spelling - warn us first.

There are two “phonetic alphabets” in use in public safety communications. Per Resq, we use the Military Phonetic Alphabet:


 Here are some important tips on phonetic spelling:

  • Not everything needs to be “spelled phonetically.”
  • Generally, phonetic spelling clarifies a word or name; Jones and Smith don’t need to be spelled for us.
  • Not every single letter of a word needs to be spelled phonetically.
  • The name “Smythe” is one example.... because it’s not a common spelling of the name.
  • Attempt to pronounce the word (or name) immediately prior to the phonetic spelling.
  • If the name is all vowels, consonants, or the word is in a language you mangle on a regular basis, skip the pronunciation attempt.
  • DON’T LAUNCH INTO A PHONETIC SPELLING WITHOUT TELLING US FIRST that you’re going to be spelling something for us!


There are various ways to alert your dispatcher that you’re going to be spelling something; “I spell”, “Last name ’St. Thomas,’ phonetically: Sam Tom, new word - Tom Henry Ocean Mary Adam Sam.” If you don’t warn the dispatcher about an upcoming phonetic spelling, you can derail their whole documentation attempt for a few seconds. A few seconds is precious in our business.


Speaking vs Writing

Icantalkmuchfasterthanyouoranyoneelsecanwrite. Socanyou. Trust me. But it ain’t funny when either one of us does it, okay? We - everyone, not just dispatchers - can understand the spoken word at a very fast rate, in conversation. Critical information needs to be provided more slowly for complete understanding and often for documentation purposes.

Talking faster on the radio does not necessarily get the message across faster. Avoid increasing speed in response to stress, excitement, or because everyone else on the channel is talking faster. The advantages of rapid delivery are completely lost if the message has to be repeated or the message is mis-heard.

Every dispatcher has a maximum work speed. If the traffic on the channel exceeds the dispatchers’ limits, information will be lost, errors will be made, and field personnel may be placed in danger. When RTO is extremely busy, you may become aware that your dispatcher is repeating much more of the field unit radio traffic than s/he did earlier in the shift. This technique “paces” an overly busy channel, providing the following


  • Obtaining confirmation of correct reception.
  • Reinforcing the information in the dispatcher’s mind by repetition.
  • Preventing further units calling before the dispatcher is ready to take the next message.

Just as YOU expect to have information provided to you slowly enough so you can write it down, so does your dispatcher. Return the favor; Dispatch is “writing down” a whole lot more of what YOU say than you are of what THEY are saying!

Which of these makes sense to you?

  1. the dispatcher has to ask the officer to repeat themselves, wasting valuable time


  1. the dispatcher “runs” with the best guess on the request, makes a mistake and the officer has to repeat the information and they’re both annoyed by the delay.

Neither? We don’t want that either. Let us work WITH you.

This is how the CAD system lays out call information: 10 Code, Call type, Postal, Location, Description. So when you tell us “I’m on a 10-11 with a Black Dodge charger, occupied x1 with a white male, Just outside the 24/7 postal 9047”, It takes us a little longer to decode that and type it in. Try this instead:

“Dispatch, 201, copy a 10-11.”

“Go ahead with your 10-11, 201.”

“10-11 at 9047 Alta Street, at the 24/7. Black Dodge Charger, Occupied x1, white male.”

How much easier have we made the process with a simple change of order?


Car 54, where are you?

Our CAD system has a number of features. This makes it a great tool, but also means more things that we have to track. You can help with this! Here are some of the most important tips:

  • Don't just log in. Be sure to mark yourself available otherwise you don't show up to Dispatch or supervisors.
  • RTO is busy and you have a minor call? You can start your own call in CAD.
  • Are you the 150th unit attaching to a call? You can attach yourself in CAD also.