2022 is beginning to shape up as a year of opportunity for us in the public safety and public health professions. As COVID-19 transforms from a pandemic to an endemic disease, emergency services should get a much-needed moment to reset and recharge. Indeed, we can use this well-deserved breather to focus on areas needing improvement in our field. One such area is how we manage responses to 911 medical calls for help. For many years, researchers and analysts have documented the need to reduce lights and siren response to medical calls for emergency assistance, warning of an overreliance on these ‘hot’ responses that puts both EMS responders and the driving public unnecessarily at risk. Numerous data sets and peer-reviewed studies demonstrate little patient benefit from an incrementally faster response in most cases where an emergency vehicle uses its lights and sirens—but substantially more risk of vehicle crashes and injuries.
In this issue we are printing the Joint Statement on Lights & Siren Vehicle Operations on Emergency Medical Services Responses, a landmark position statement created and endorsed by 14 professional agencies that make up the full spectrum of emergency medical services (EMS)—including dispatch, response, pre-hospital, and hospital emergency care. This official statement details the dangers of using lights and siren response for ambulances and first responder vehicles encourages limited responder use of these lights and siren responses, and emphasizes the importance of using Emergency Medical Dispatch protocols when handling incoming 911 calls to correctly prioritize EMS calls to determine lights and siren need. One timely study in this issue from a research team at Western Carolina University reinforces the point that EMS agencies must do a better job utilizing dispatch protocols to help reduce lights and siren response.
Another study looks at a potentially advantageous change to medical protocols that may help better identify patients who are not alert or not ‘responding normally’—an ongoing issue with medical dispatch.
Cognitive load is a term that has been used to describe the amount of mental effort needed to work on a task. Can we use this measure to analyze work and improve our emergency call center workflow and system design to optimize dispatcher output? An engineering research team from Florida has come up with a novel method for helping us better understand our workload.
Our case report in this issue deals with a dilemma we never want to face in our own emergency dispatch agency, but very well may someday—an emergency with responders unavailable due to an extreme weather event. Read how one Canadian agency handled such an event.
We hope this issue is informative, thought-provoking, and motivates you to continue your efforts to improve your agency’s emergency services in some way, big or small.
Greg Scott, Editor-in-Chief