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Innovative Programs Helping 9-1-1

Working in public safety communications can be a tough job. The hours, the shifts, the people, the calls. Everything comes together to make an often stressful occupation even more so. Due to this, it’s refreshing when innovative thinkers design programs and services that make our lives a little easier. I know that the main goal of many of these innovations is saving lives and increasing the effectiveness of emergency services but helping us help people faster and more efficiently is a winning situation all around. Here are details of three such programs that are helping us out.

MedStar Emergency Services’ 9-1-1 Nurse Triage Program

A Texas-based model that is peaking interest throughout the country, MedStar’s Emergency Services’ 9-1-1 Nurse Triage Program not only increases appropriate care but also decreases a burden on 9-1-1 operators. In May 2012, MedStar began this innovative program staffing the line with former paramedic and MedStar dispatcher Susan Pelton, RN. With over a decade of ICU nursing experience, Pelton was able to switch from a “see and treat” to this new “hear and treat” model that matches universal healthcare goals. When someone calls 9-1-1 with a medical issue, the call is still handled initially by a certified emergency medical dispatcher who will determine if the call is low acuity. If so, they can transfer the call to Pelton. At any time, if the acuity changes the call can be returned to the PSAP for ambulance response. The goal behind this program is to not only lessen the burden on emergency services, for example sending an ambulance to transport for a low-acuity call such as a toothache but also to assist callers in coordinating their healthcare needs by providing advice and resources. This is a long-term solution that will increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of medical services. It will also free up the 9-1-1 operator, as well as, the ambulance crew to be available for true emergencies.

Currently, nurse triage personnel are only available Monday through Friday, 9 to 5pm, but this fall it will go to a 24 hour resource. Many other areas are looking to this program as a model to design a similar one in their community. The program is funded by MedStar and three hospital partners.

Smart 911

Smart911 is a program showing up throughout the country. Run by the campus and public safety software partner, Rave Mobile Safety, Smart911 allows citizens to develop a profile including important information they want first responders to know. They associate their phone number with their profile and when they dial 9-1-1, the operator sees that there is Smart911 information. They then relay this information to the emergency responders.

Citizens can enter anything from important directional information, such as “my house is down the second driveway off the main road behind the barn,” to medical information like “diabetic”, “resident is deaf”, or “allergic to latex.” The number of residents, pets and if anyone is disabled helps out tremendously in the case of an emergency like a house fire. Having the photo of a missing child immediately available makes the search for him or her commence that much faster. And the information can be transferred to the officers in the field.  When seconds count having this information at your fingertips is invaluable not only to the citizen but also to public safety telecommunications operators who can get the best, most accurate and current information to the officers, firefighters and EMTs.

Bounce-Back Messaging

As text-to-911 becomes more and more a reality, citizens will begin to assume it is available regardless of where they are. Already so many people rely on texting as a major means of communication and when a situation arises where they may either not be safe to talk on the phone or they are just more comfortable communicating in this way, they will believe they can get a hold of 9-1-1 through the keypad of their phone. But, what if that area does not have the capability to receive texts? They have no way of knowing that their message did not go through and 9-1-1 has no way of knowing that an emergency exists.

Wireless companies are stepping up to help address this issue. For example, starting July 8th, citizens in Minnesota will get a bounce-back message if they text 9-1-1. The message will advise them that texting doesn’t work in this area and they need to call instead. All the major cell phone carriers are working with Minnesota Public Safety to educate the public and prevent a miscommunication tragedy. Until texting to 9-1-1 becomes universal, any area that does not offer this service should have bounce-back messages.

As the private sector integrates more and more into the public sector, I’m hoping programs, services and technology will continue to advance and help those of us in public safety communications do our jobs better. Programs that give us more information faster, help us triage medical calls and let citizens know when we cannot accept texts-to-911 make sitting at the console a bit easier. As we go into a future with lots of changes, I anticipate companies will continue to help the first first responders be successful and do what we do best-save lives.