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Northbridge 911, MA: Meeting state mandates and gaining faster response times

Moving to Total Response helped us stay in compliance with our state 911 regulations.”

John Ouillette, Lieutenant, Northbridge Police Department


Northbridge is a town in Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States. The town, which is part of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor of the National Park Service, has a population of 16,732 as of the 2020 census.

“We are our own PSAP,” says John Ouillette, Lieutenant, Northbridge Police Department. “We handle police, fire, and emergency medical for Northbridge, with a 911 staff of seven fulltime and three part-time dispatchers.”

For many years, Northbridge call takers relied on a flip card protocol system created by PowerPhone. Although the system had served the PSAP well, the State of Massachusetts mandated that organizations were required to adopt a computer-based protocol solution and computer assisted dispatch to continue eligibility for 911 grant funds.


Last year, Northbridge moved from its PowerPhone flip card system to PowerPhone’s Total Response decision support system, which integrates with its CAD system.

“We had been happy with our existing PowerPhone solution, so it was natural for us to stay with PowerPhone and move to the Total Response software when we had to move to a computerized solution,” Ouillette says. Our dispatchers like it and find it easy to use.”

Total Response, with its patented structured call handling technology, provides the industry’s most powerful, yet easy to use, solution to help telecommunicators swiftly and efficiently determine caller needs and trigger the appropriate response whether requiring police, fire, EMD, or any combination of resources. The solution includes more than 80 integrated protocols for police, fire, and EMD.

Meeting Mandates Means Staying in Compliance

“Moving to Total Response helped us stay in compliance with our state 911 regulations,” Ouillette says. “We also depend on the way PowerPhone updates the software whenever needed to help us stay current on all other regulations.”

As a key supporter of telecommunicators since 1983, PowerPhone has assisted more than 700 agencies with meeting their local, regional, and nationally recognized requirements such as National Fire Protection Association, Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, International Association of Police Chiefs, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Commission on the Accreditation of Ambulance Services, National Emergency Number Association, Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, and more.

Information at Their Fingertips

Moving from flip cards to Total Response helped Northbridge dispatchers appreciate the time-saving convenience of having critical information and guidance at their fingertips.

“There’s a big benefit in having the information on the computer screen, everything at your fingertips,” says Rae Leonard, a Northbridge telecommunicator with six years of experience. “We no longer have to pause in the middle of a call to reach over for flip cards. You can stay focused on the call. And all the information you enter transfers over to our CAD system, making it immediately available to our first responders. We really like that.”

Leonard notes that the onscreen guidance helps all call takers and is especially helpful for new hires.

“Having the right protocols immediately in front of you is especially important for newer dispatchers,” Leonard says. “If they are handling a stolen motor vehicle, or someone has fled the scene of a crime, Total Response helps guide them to ask all of the right questions:  What make and model of the vehicle, what color, direction of travel, and such.  This makes it easier for them to think like that under pressure. So having the information right there provides a great guide to make sure you gather all the right information.”

Ouillette agrees. “Especially for a new person who isn’t as experienced as Rae is, it’s good to have the onscreen guidance so they can make sure they don’t miss anything.”

Structured Call Handling Means Faster Response Times

Protocol questions are instantly refreshed according to caller replies to questions. Call takers are freed from having to go through a required list of questions before progressing to the next—which can add time to a call and frustration for the caller and call handler.

“When dealing with an EMD call, Total Response lets you skip ahead as the nature of the medical emergency becomes clearer,” Leonard says. “If the main situation is difficulty breathing, you can skip ahead to where you need to be, rather than going through unnecessary questions.”

Call takers also like the ability to stay focused on the screen. “You save time on urgent calls because you don’t have to flip through the cards and read it all,” Leonard says. “Everything you need is there with a click on the screen.”

I’ve noticed that our dispatchers are quicker with their responses over the phone which can be critically important when they are in the middle of guiding someone through CPR or giving instructions for emergency first aid.”

Ouillette notes that time saved in handling a call can translate into getting information immediately to first responders. The seamless integration between Total Response and Northbridge’s CAD system means first responders have immediate access to the information they need while still enroute.

“The time saved in handling a call might not be measured in minutes, but even saving seconds can make a critical difference,” Ouillette says. “This is especially true when relaying medical information to emergency medical personnel or safety information out to police officers responding to a call.”

User-Friendly Interface Reduces Stress for a Stressful Job

“When you’re in a high-stress situation, all of the information is at your fingertips,” Leonard says. “Total Response is very detailed, and it will guide you even when dealing with something like an unknown medical problem. The caller might not be clear, but Total Response will guide you through with questions that will lead you to the main problem at hand. It helps you work with the caller to gather the critical information.”

Leonard also likes the pop-up windows that provide additional information for specific medical situations like someone choking, not breathing, or bleeding.

“The information Total Response provides, and the user-friendly environment, help take stress out of what can be a stressful job,” Leonard says.

“Total Response helps keep things calmer for the dispatcher and the person calling in because all of the information, and guided questions, are right in front of the dispatcher,” Ouillette says. “This is important because on the other end of the line people can be very emotional, depending on what’s happening.”

Total Response can help our dispatchers provide a sense of calm and clarity in the middle of a very stressful situation.”

Online Training Provides Flexibility

Ouillette says Total Response’s Site Licensed Training gives dispatchers flexibility in when they take classes.

“Everybody is busy with life, and police and dispatch work is shift work,” Ouillette says. “If somebody is working the night shift and has to be home during the day for their kids, it would be inconvenient for them to come in for an in-person training.  It’s great that with Total Response they can go online and take courses whenever it’s convenient.”

From a quality assurance standpoint, Northbridge 911 can go back and look at how different calls were handled.

“Because all the calls are cataloged, we can look back at responses and make sure that the dispatch is doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Ouillette says. “If there was an issue with a call, we can see where the issue was and correct it going forward.”

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