Emergency Dispatch

Municipalities across the Commonwealth provide emergency call answering and dispatching services to direct police, fire, medical and other emergency response services.

These services are performed at Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), Regional Emergency Communications Centers (RECCs) or call centers. There are 269 separate dispatch operations in Massachusetts, a state with a population of 6.5 million residents in 2.8 million households, covering an area of approximately 7,800 square miles. On average, about 24,000 people per dispatch operation in the Commonwealth. By comparison, Maryland, a state with similar demographics, operates 34 dispatch centers serving an average of 169,000 people per dispatch operation.  It is widely accepted that there is opportunity for Massachusetts to realize the benefits of regionalizing dispatch services through increased efficiencies and economies of scale while maintaining or improving the quality of emergency call answering and dispatching services.

The State 911 Department was established to provide enhanced E-911 equipment, databases, network and technical support to Massachusetts PSAPs. It provides training and educational materials for state and municipal 911 telecommunicators. using a dedicated funding stream collected through a surcharge on all home and wireless telephone bills, the State 911 Department offers competitive grants for feasibility and planning studies, for development and implementation of projects that regionalize 911 call answering and dispatch services, and non-competitive incentive grants to help pay for operating expenses.

Statutory Requirements

Generally, M.G.L. Chapter 6A, Sections 18A through 18L, inclusive, govern the provision of PSAP and emergency dispatch services in Massachusetts.

The State 911 Department is charged by statute (M.G.L. Chapter 6A, Section 18B) with establishing certification requirements for E-911 telecommunicators, including mergency medical dispatch (“EMD”), and quality assurance of EMD programs in the Commonwealth. Recently, the Department promulgated new regulations governing EMD and certification requirements for E-911 telecommunicators (source: MA Executive Office of Public Safety)

Types of Agreements

There are no specific M.G.L. related to regionalizing emergency dispatch services; however, at present there is pending legislation (Senate Bill #2248) that would specifically govern the creation of RECCs.

Regional PSAP and RECC’s (Regional Emergecy Communication Centers)operations are organized through multiple channels. The governance agreements associated with the selected organization structure will vary accordingly.  Agreements may involve any of the following:

  • Department of county government
  • Stand-alone entity created by the regional governmental entity, i.e. Council of Governments (COG)
  • Department within the county sheriff’s office
  • City department, reporting to executive board
  • Intergovernmental cooperative, with same powers as the governments that formed them
  • Stand-alone government agency

Specific Best Practices

Municipal leaders interested in regionalizing emergency dispatch services should contact the State 911 Department for assistance and further information. The department was created in 2008 to improving the Commonwealth’s ability to coordinate and administer the Enhanced 9-1-1 system and ensure the most efficient and consistent approach for Enhanced 9-1-1 service to all 351 cities and towns.

Moreover, several grant programs were created that assist municipalities in consolidating emergency dispatch services.  The grants are as follows:

  • Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) and Regional Emergency Communication Center (RECC) Support Grant, which will reimburse primary, regional and regional secondary public safety answering points and regional emergency communications centers for allowable expenses related to enhanced 911 personnel and  equipment costs;
  • PSAP and RECC Training Grant;
  • Wireless State Police Public Safety Answering Point Grant;
  • Regional Public Safety Answering Point and Regional Emergency Communications Center Incentive Grant, which will provide regional public safety answering points and regional emergency communication centers with funds for reimbursement of expenses specified in the support grant documents. It uses a formula that applies specified percent of total surcharge revenues based on number of municipalities to be served by regional public safety answering point or regional emergency communication center, and
  • Regional and Regional Secondary Public Safety Answering Point, and Regional Emergency Communication Center Development Grant: will support the development and startup of regional secondary public safety answering points and regional emergency communication centers, including the expansion or upgrade of existing regional and regional secondary public safety answering points, to maximize effective emergency 9-1-1 and dispatch services as well as regional interoperability

The State 911 Department is clearly supporting regional activities and is providing multiple programs as incentives.  Visit the MA Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Website for additional information on their programs.

Other Resources

Numerous 911 dispatch consolidation case studies can be found in a publication by the Maxine Goodman Levin, College of Urban Affairs at the Cleveland State University: Case Studies for Consolidated Dispatch Center.

An article in the JEMS Emergency Medical Services publication illustrates reduced response times after the consolidation of the Greensboro and Guilford County 911 centers.

Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) offers an overview of its experience in organizing a shared EMS services initiative among several Massachusetts communities:  FRCOG Sub-Region EMS Shared Services Report (Phase I) and Shared EMS Services Options Phase II Report: Resolving the Challenges: A Community Solution for Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately