Wireless Connectivity Eases EMS Challenges

By  William Atkinson — December 02, 2008

Lake-Sumter Emergency Medical Services, in Mount Dora, FL, serves Lake and Sumter counties, receiving about 45,000 calls a year. "We cover 1,730 square miles in two counties, about 220 square miles of which is water, including a number of named lakes, which provides a geographical challenge," says Jim Root, CIO.

Besides the geography, the Lake-Sumter EMS found itself facing the challenge of managing multiple, often overlapping, demands from the medical and fire rescue divisions. It needed better ways to manage assets in real time and also to bolster the capabilities and effectiveness of its emergency response systems.

"We wanted a wireless solution, because we wanted to move to electronic patient care reporting," says Root. "At the time, paramedics and medics in the field were creating and filing paper reports, and it took a minimum of four days for them to get here for clinical review and ultimately for patient billing."

During 2005 and 2006, Lake-Sumter EMS evaluated several different wireless solutions. It put high-speed cellular data services "to the test" for emergency response scenarios and ended up settling on a cellular-based solution. It determined that the newly deployed 3G networks were capable of reliably networking time-sensitive data communications between and among the EMS personnel in the field, the caregivers in area hospitals, the staff at the Communications Center, and the patient financial services people.

"We next looked for a service provider that could provide the coverage we needed in the two counties," says Root. It selected Sprint, and began using its high-speed EV-DO Rev. A (Evolution-Data Optimized, Revision A) cellular networks.

"Once we selected the service provider, we looked for technology that would allow us to actually utilize the service," he says. Lake-Sumter EMS ended up selecting Novatel Wireless Merlin PC720 modems, Junxion Box routers, and Junxion Field Commander remote management service for its 40 vehicles.

Novatel Wireless, Inc. is a provider of wireless broadband access solutions, based on 3G WCDMA (HSDPA and UMTS), CDMA, and GSM technologies. Novatel Wireless Merlin PC cards and related technology enable high-speed wireless access.

Junxion, Inc. provides cellular router solutions that support more than 1,500 enterprise and government customer organizations. The Junxion Box router makes it easier to connect with wireless data services from major U.S. wireless carriers. AT&T and Sprint actively promote Junxion products for a wide variety of enterprise applications. Junxion Field Commander is a hosted, commercial-grade remote management tool designed to make it easy to deploy and manage Junxion solutions.

"We have been operating the system since late 2006," says Root. The combined technology is now the main information hub of Lake-Sumter EMS's state-of-the-art EMS Communications Center. It maximizes mobile resources and provides the best support for the county's first responders.

The Novatel Wireless modules provide the range necessary for connectivity in most of the rural areas of the two counties. Novatel Wireless worked closely with Junxion to develop an online mapping application using Google Maps, which enables dispatchers and field supervisors to map the location and path of any Lake-Sumter EMS vehicle staged across Central Florida.

That is, the GPS capability provided by the Novatel Wireless modems enables EMS vehicles carrying the Junxion routers to transmit their locations, allowing the Command Center to see the locations of the fleet at all times.

The combined technology solution was put to the ultimate test in January 2008, when a fiery pile-up involving about 50 vehicles closed 14 miles of Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando.

Blinding conditions were created when dense fog mixed with smoke from what had been a controlled-burn brush fire, initially designed to eliminate accumulations of downed timber, that had gotten out of control and burned to the edge of the highway.

The result was "a soupy mix of fog and smoke that looked almost like a snowy blizzard," according to a  New York Times article on the incident. Visibility was so limited that Florida state troopers and Polk County sheriff deputies had to park their vehicles and walk from one crashed vehicle to another to check for injuries.

"Polk County called us and asked us to help with transport and incident response," says Root. "We were able to locate and guide our vehicles in those low visibility conditions."
Lake-Sumter EMS personnel assisted in the effort by rescuing victims and transporting them to hospitals. The technology was able to direct first responders blinded by conditions on the ground, using the GPS functionality of its Novatel modems and Junxion Field Commander, to monitor advanced life support units arriving and exiting the crash sites.

There have been other benefits. Lake-Sumter EMS went from waiting a minimum of four days for a patient care report to getting it the same day, usually within just hours, dramatically reducing the time to bill for service.

Root also likes the flexibility and growth potential of the technology, as well as the ease of upgrades. He can perform Flash-upgradeable technology updates via remote management. "We don't have to bring the vehicles in and take them out of service in order to do the upgrades," he states.

Lake-Sumter EMS also needs rapid dispatch of its units, including getting timely information to them and knowing where they are, so that it knows which unit to send to a call, based on proximity, and also to help them find the best possible route. "We are in the process of completing a computer-aided dispatch process," says Root. "With Novatel's GPS Capabilities in their cards, and the Junxion Box Field Commander, we are able to locate vehicles via the hosted application over the Internet."

In addition, according to Root, the Lake-Sumter EMS is looking at integrating RFID technology in conjunction with the wireless routers.


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