ABSTRACT

Introduction: Unlike calls from landline telephones, mobile phones do not provide EMS call handlers with a full address, and positional estimates from mobile phone signals can have a margin of error of up to 3000m (approx.. 9900 feet) in rural areas. We noticed that mountain casualties attending our Emergency Department in North Wales often struggle to pronounce Welsh-language place names. We wished to determine whether the ability of 999 callers to accurately pronounce (or describe) their location within Snowdonia National Park affected the efficiency with which their location could be identified by local ambulance dispatchers.

Methods: A random sample of 36 Mountain users across 15 different locations in Snowdonia were approached and asked to describe their locations. Their responses were recorded and graded by the researchers on a four-point scale from perfect (Grade 1: correct grid reference or pronunciation), partial/good (Grade 2: location could be deduced without specialist local knowledge), partial/poor (Grade 3: local expertise required), and incomplete/hopeless (Grade 4: search would be necessary). The recordings were then played to ambulance call-handlers as if they were real calls, and call-handlers were asked to identify the callers’ location from the recording.

Results: The quality of location information provided by the caller clearly affected the efficiency with which their location was identified. Recordings with Grade 1 location information were located more rapidly (median 01:41 minutes, range 01:11-05:13) than recordings with Grade 2 location information (median 02:06 minutes, range 00:42-08:12), and almost a whole minute faster than Grade 4 (median 02:35 minutes, range 01:16-04:47).  36% of callers could not provide an adequate description of their location, and 11% gave a dangerously inadequate or misleading description.

Conclusion: These results provide a strong case for encouraging mountain users to carry a map at all times and to be able to use it. Alternately, the use of more numbered waypoints at popular mountain locations may be justified.

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