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June 10, 2013

PowerPhone reimagines training 911 operators

Photo | Kristina Falvo Chris Salafia, president and CEO of PowerPhone, works on a training script with Tara Milardo, account manager, in the firm’s Madison office.
Chris Salafia, president/CEO, PowerPhone

Phil Salafia, a former police officer, was once dispatched to a “sick person” call. That sick person turned out to be an escaped patient from a mental facility who had barricaded himself in his home with a shotgun. Salafia survived the incident, but the experience reinforced for him the important role the 911 dispatcher plays in gathering and relaying information to responders.

When he retired in 1984, Salafia formed PowerPhone, a Madison-based company specializing in call-handling protocols, training and quality assurance for 911 and police, fire and emergency medical dispatch. His purpose is shining a light on the vital role of the dispatcher has in emergency response.

“He literally started traveling the country with a plane ticket and a briefcase teaching classes on effective communication in a crisis,” says Chris Salafia, Phil’s son and now the company’s president/CEO.

In 2012, the company — with 23 full-time employees and another dozen consultants — eclipsed $4 million in earnings and now boasts more than 500 customers across the globe, including the City of New Haven, the City of Hartford, United States Marine Corps, the City of Alexandria, Va., the Singapore Civil Defense Force, the Royal Bahamas Police Force, and a number of municipal and county 911 centers across the U.S.

Echoing the principles his father founded the company on, Salafia says PowerPhone’s premise is simple — to make 911 better. He explained that 911 dispatchers are typically civilian employees not trained to the same level as sworn officers. These responders have an incredible responsibility but all too often are not given the appropriate training or tools to perform their jobs effectively, he says.

“PowerPhone’s mission is to provide a system that helps standardize the information gathering process on any emergency call,” says Salafia. “Be it a choking child, an explosion or a shooting in progress, the questions asked by the dispatcher can have a direct and immediate impact on the outcome of the call.”

To address this, PowerPhone, which was named a company to watch by the Connecticut Technology Council in 2011, developed a system called Total Response that is designed to provide structure to any 911 call by having operators follow a concise information gathering formula to elicit the most important information in the most efficient manner possible.

“The average response time in the U.S. is around 4-6 minutes and much higher in many places with volunteer first responders,” Salafia said. “Therefore, these pre-arrival instructions can and do save lives. Whether it’s getting air into a non-breathing infant or exploring options of Run, Hide or Fight in an active shooting, our protocol system creates a zero-minute response time.”

Total Response is sold as a complete solution. PowerPhone offers a protocol package (the knowledge base) delivered either in paper or software form, a variety of training and certifications in the use of the system and a comprehensive quality assurance measurement tool to provide feedback on the use of the system. The company, whose website is, also offers a series of ongoing continuing education classes delivered in person or online to help maintain the operators’ proficiency.

Recognizing that municipal budgets are continually challenged, Salafia says PowerPhone is aggressive with pricing. A Total Response implementation can run anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 and up.

Salafia would ultimately like to see PowerPhone’s call-taking formula become the de facto standard for managing a 911 call, saying he believes that within 10 years people will not believe that there was not always a structured process applied to emergency calls.

“To accomplish that goal we must continue to educate our clients, stakeholders and the general public on how vital the role of the 911 call taker is in the chain of survival,” he said. “If we accomplish that, then our market share will increase exponentially.”

John A. Lahtinen is a freelance writer/editor based in Farmington. Reach him at

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