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Five Questions With: Michael Gerber on EMS Agenda 2050

Michael Gerber
EMS Agenda 2050

It’s been more than 20 years since publication of the landmark Emergency Medical Services Agenda for the Future—about time to update it, wouldn’t you say?

That process has been underway for a while now, led by a 10-deep expert panel, facilitated by a veteran EMS leader, and informed by frontline participants and stakeholders via meetings across the land. It’s known as EMS Agenda 2050, and in the latest “Five Questions With,” writing-team member Michael Gerber talks about the process to date and work remaining. 

Public comment on EMS Agenda 2050 will be accepted through May 31. Join the discussion at (On a related note, May 31 is also the deadline for comments on the National EMS Scope of Practice Model revision. Learn more and read the latest draft here; make comments here.)

EMS World: Describe your approach and/or process to writing the first draft of EMS Agenda 2050. What are the challenges? What is easy or fun about it?
In some ways that’s an easy question, because the biggest challenge is also what makes it fun. We spent the first year trying to get as many people as possible to give us ideas—we held meetings across the country, hosted listening forums at EMS conferences, solicited feedback through the website, and more. The project team, federal partners sponsoring the project, and members of the technical expert panel all truly enjoyed meeting so many people and hearing everyone’s suggestions. Some we heard often—things like better sharing of data and professionalizing EMS—but others were things I’d never thought of. And of course there were the humorous but often practical ideas. One group really wanted reclining seats in every ambulance, and for some reason that’s the idea I remember the most.

Taking all these concepts and trying to distill them into a vision for the future of EMS that can be easily understood and visualized can be daunting, but the technical expert panel has been such a great group to work with that they make our jobs as writers much easier. I’ve learned a lot from working with such a diverse group of people, and they make it enjoyable even when we’re spending three hours debating the use of one word or phrase.

How does being a paramedic and writer help you with this task? Does it hinder you in any way?
Having knowledge of the profession certainly helps when it comes to being able to listen to the panel conversations and not have to ask for translations of acronyms or EMS-related jargon. But I also hope it’s allowed our team to be more than just facilitators and technical writers. The core of our project team also includes Mike Taigman, who has facilitated our public meetings and technical expert panel meetings. Mike is an expert at facilitation and visioning, but he’s also a former paramedic with decades of experience leading EMS systems and performance improvement projects. And my RedFlash colleague, Keith Griffiths, probably knows more about EMS than anyone else who has never actually been an EMT. 
At the same time, all along we’ve emphasized not letting the problems of today limit our thinking. So for all of us who still practice EMS, it’s been especially helpful to get perspectives from people new to the profession or outside of EMS. They’ve really opened our eyes to possibilities and ways to view things that maybe we wouldn’t think of on our own.

What kind of company is the RedFlash Group? How does it help with NHTSA’s projects and initiatives?
The RedFlash Group is a national consulting firm with an expertise in EMS, 9-1-1 communications and technology, and other aspects of healthcare and public safety. In addition to our work on EMS Agenda 2050, we help the NHTSA Office of EMS with education and outreach efforts, including, where you can learn a lot about what’s happening at the federal level related to EMS, and the EMS Focus webinar series. We also have other public and private-sector clients we partner with to help them better understand and communicate with the EMS, public safety, and healthcare communities.

What’s really great about our team, though, is that everyone is so much fun to work with and truly dedicated to partnering with our clients to make communities safer and healthier. We’re a small group but have a great mix of expertise in business strategy, communications, and the industries we serve.

How did you collect and organize all the feedback from the various meetings around the country?

Encouraging dialogue and participation was so important and a priority of the panel. The TEP members recognized that even though the language in the federal contract gave the group that name, they aren’t experts on every aspect of EMS and weren’t going to come up with every idea themselves. At each of the four public meetings, we had members of the TEP and project team serve as facilitators at every table—but their main job was to listen. After each meeting the team gathered for a working dinner and spent hours just sharing with each other some of the ideas and feedback we heard. Then, through meetings, phone calls, and e-mail, further discussions would help determine how those ideas could be incorporated into the draft that was released earlier this month.  
What are the next steps and anticipated dates for comments, revisions, and a final draft?

The most important thing to know is there’s still time to get us your input! The draft is available for download at There’s a link on the site where you can send us your comments on the draft—we’ll be accepting comments through May 31. This summer the TEP will review all the feedback we receive to revise EMS Agenda 2050 and release it to the public. 

Although I’ll certainly feel some relief when that final version is out there, that’s really when the work begins for all of us. It’ll be so important for the profession to come together and work with our partners and communities to turn the vision into reality. I sometimes remind myself that writing the vision is easy—implementing it will be a long road. But it will be an exciting one. 

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