Communications Advances Can Help Save Lives
Connectivity and the technology underpinning it have always been critical to EMS providers and first responders. Having clear lines of communication and access to accurate and timely information is key, whether it relates to treating a patient, assessing a situation on the ground or knowing the locations of other team members. While for most people a dropped call or scrambled message is an irritation, for EMS providers coordinating a response to a disaster or treating a victim, it can be the difference between life and death.
Agencies involved in emergency and disaster response still depend on fairly established solutions, such as 9-1-1 systems and two-way radios, that have proven themselves over decades. First responders are also becoming more reliant on mobile solutions and other advanced technologies to share information, improve victim treatment and coordinate their overall response to emergency situations.
Keeping Responders Connected
Mobile solutions such as smartphones and tablets enable healthcare providers to share information in real time, making it easier to get a complete picture of a patient’s medical history or health needs during an emergency. And with a general shift toward electronic patient-care reports, records can be electronically transmitted to the hospital ahead of an ambulance’s arrival, allowing doctors to be fully prepared to continue treatment.
The benefits of using mobile solutions for victim care, whether in the hospital or on the ground, are tangible. According to a trial by the University of Chicago Medical Center, healthcare professionals made fewer medication errors and other potentially harmful mistakes after beginning to use tablets to access patient information. Therefore, ready access to fast connectivity and mobile applications is essential to enhancing clinical collaboration and thus improving patient satisfaction and experience.
In addition, new technologies including robots, artificial intelligence, drones and “Internet of Things” (IoT) solutions are giving EMS providers an unprecedented array of tools to keep them connected and furnished with the information they need.
Before such technologies become standard, though, EMS providers need assurance that the technology they’re using has performed in similar conditions and been tailored to their needs. That’s why Verizon recently brought together more than 200 first responders, state and local government officials, and business leaders, including EMS providers, as well as more than 40 network, software and hardware companies for a live crisis-response exercise titled “Operation Convergent Response.” The goal was to demonstrate the use of innovative new technologies to support first responders during a large-scale emergency and to stress-test those technologies to ensure EMS providers have as much information as possible and can share it via a network that remains 100% stable. Technologies on display included:
- Balloon-tethered temporary 4G LTE cell sites that provide additional coverage and ensure the network is available when it’s needed most;
- Drones that perform high-definition video surveillance of emergency situations to share real-time intelligence with EMS providers;
- Autonomous vehicles and robots that can get into spaces that are impossible or unsafe for an EMS provider or first responder to enter, providing additional information and another set of eyes and hands to responders when they can’t physically reach a patient;
- Artificial intelligence, remote telemedicine support and IoT solutions that can send and receive vital data necessary to make lifesaving decisions in the field, allowing EMS providers to perform complex procedures with more accuracy, control and flexibility;
- Software-defined perimeter (SDP), software-defined networking (SDN) and virtual network services (VNS) solutions that enable EMS providers to design their networks to flex on demand, creating a reliable and flexible communications network that is critical to the development of real-time care, with an added layer of security as a bonus;
- 4D visualization capability permitting viewing of ground, air and subterranean mapping of people and buildings, along with real-time cyberthreat management views as actual cyber-adversaries attempted to disrupt the event.
In addition, a functioning trauma center was installed as part of the simulation to demonstrate advanced medical response and treatment technologies, while an emergency operations center tested the ability of first responders to share information and monitor/direct coordinated response efforts on the scene. See video highlights of Operation Convergent Response at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eBushz1Ka8.
The Future of Emergency Communications
In the 16 years since 9/11, much has been learned and significant progress has been made advancing the ability of first responders to communicate in an emergency. Technologies that were not even available at the time, such as the smartphone and 4G LTE connectivity, have evolved rapidly and become important assets for EMS providers and first responders in strengthening operations.
The growth and changes in the ways consumers communicate have directly impacted EMS provider operations. Operation Convergent Response provided a tantalizing glimpse into a future of emergency communications and response using advanced technologies that are available now. Given the pace of technological advance in such a hypercompetitive marketplace over the last 20 years, future innovations such as 5G technology will continue to give public safety the ability to respond to emergencies and save lives in ways we can barely imagine today.
Mike Maiorana is senior vice president of public sector markets for Verizon Enterprise Solutions. In this role he manages a team of sales, engineering and sales support personnel and is responsible for sales and customer satisfaction for federal, state and local governments, as well as education and public-safety customers across the U.S.