When Barbara Allen, a 9-1-1 dispatcher at Jersey City Medical Center, picked up the phone on Feb. 18, the woman on the other end said her husband wasn’t breathing.
Up on the screen in front of her popped instructions for Allen, a trained Emergency Medical Technician, to give, while nearby another operator altered JCMC alerted a JCMC paramedics unit to head to the location.
Because the woman was calling from North Bergen, the operator had to alert local officials in order to send an ambulance to the site. If this had been Jersey City, a JCMC unit would have been dispatched.
Because the situation was considered life threatening, JCMC – which is the county trauma center – sent a paramedic unit.
While Allen was reading script off a screen, allowing her to give the woman instructions on the other end of the line, a duplicate print copy of those same instructions was nearby in case something went wrong with the computer.
Everything is redundant, sometimes duplicated more than twice.
“Is there a doctor there?” Allen asked.
The woman on the far end said, “No.”
Allen then told the woman to lay the man on his back on the floor. The woman didn’t have the strength, and so Allen asked if there is someone in the room to help her. There was, and they helped put the man on the floor.
“Jersey City Medical Center’s EMS has been serving our community for more than a century.” -- Dennis Patrisso
Allen said she wanted her to do this 600 times or until the EMTs arrived to take over, and counted out the pumping with her, telling the woman at intervals how well she was doing, and to keep it up.
Accommodating other situations
Although not all the calls to the 9-11 center are life and death the way this one was, many are, and the center is designed to accommodate nearly every situation, including people who speak Spanish, and if necessary, a 24-hour translation service for many of the other languages that are spoken in Hudson County.
The center located on the third floor of Jersey City Medical Center in Jersey City is the official 9-1-1 site for medical services for the county, and has undergone significant changes over the last decade, keeping on the cutting edge of technology in order to improve response times from when the center gets a call to when an ambulance arrives on the scene.
Earlier this month, JCMC EMS upgraded to the latest in cutting-edge emergency communications technology with the installation of Sentinel 4.2 call processing consoles, which provide a host of addition information to dispatchers in an easy to read format that allow dispatchers to make quicker and more informed decisions at times of emergency.
This replaces a 25-year old dispatch communications technology and significantly upgrades EMS response capability.
The new technology allows remote site answering in the event of an emergency or outage at the dispatch center. It streamlines the call-taking process, allowing for expedited emergency response. The system builds in multiple redundancies to protect against emergency-related outages.
When fully implemented the system will allow the public to submit information about emergency situations via text, images, video, and other data directly to 9-1-1 centers.
“Jersey City Medical Center’s EMS has been serving our community for more than a century, and we pride ourselves on combining experience with the latest technology in order to save lives,” said Dennis Patrisso, Communications Manager for Hudson County Communications Emergency Network.
This is only the latest in a number of changes to the dispatch center ongoing for well over a decade, but saw significant impetuous after the terrorists attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 when various public safety entities found they could not talk to each other. But they also found that many of these groups needed to, but did not have adequate communications with area hospitals.
This was hugely important in the event of a large disaster with a significant number of injured, who might need to be admitted. With the consolidation of hospitals and reduction of overall number of beds, public safety needed to communicate better with dispatch centers to know which hospital had the resources they needed.
This lesson became even clearer during Hurricane Sandy in late 2012 when hospitals around the county faced flooding and power loss.
The dispatch center along with its nearby command center conference room not only allows a number of decision makers to meet, but also provides computers that allow them access to information to make decision.
Nearly all the information that is available to the dispatch center is available here. Although there are power backups of all kinds, each computer is portable and if necessary everything can move somewhere else.
The dispatch center, originally located at the old hospital campus, was moved into the new hospital around 2004 with significant improvements.
The center in one form or another existed since the 1980s. The 911 system celebrated its 46th anniversary recently.
Some of the more recent innovations include two systems that provide dispatchers with historical and contemporary information.
One map paints areas where history shows calls typically come from during a particular time so that dispatchers can position mobile units nearby to reduce response times. These also read historic traffic patterns so as to allow ambulances to avoid typical backups such as those caused when schools let out.
“This has helped allow us to reduce our response times by one third,” said Patrisso.
Ambulances are located in areas where they are expected to be needed most, and give ambulances information they need to avoid areas that cause delays.
EMTs and paramedics also do a lot more on site than they did in the past, equipped with everything from IV to life saving drugs, and they are in communication with doctors at JCMC, who monitor the situation and offer treatment options.
Another monitor studies real time information, and makes comparisons that alerts dispatchers to possible larger problems such as similar medical issues that either indicate a terrorist situation or some kind of health issue – perhaps bad food being served as restaurant. This is a system that also shows possible outbreaks of bad drugs related to a number of similar calls.
Oddly enough, with all the intense modernization, the dispatch system maintains its traditional analog radio system, not digital – partly due to the experiences learned on Sept. 11 when a number of digital systems failed, while traditional radio continued to operate.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.