BREAKING GROUND IN EASTERN EUROPE
April 11, 2014
By Audrey Fraizer
Say you had a long list of objectives to reach an overall goal of protecting people and keeping public order. And, say the list is one of many lists you must satisfy in an ambitious quest to fight endemic corruption and build a modern state based on democracy, the rule of law, good governance, and market economy principles.
Finally, pretend you represent a populous and economically struggling country in Eastern Europe determined to become part of the European Union (EU) following your country’s political break from Russia nearly two decades earlier.
What would you do? Who would you contact?
Well, miles away and an ocean apart, protocol seems to be the answer.
Those asking the questions were the directors of a recently built emergency communication center in Georgia. This Georgia is not the southern state in the USA, but a country at the dividing line of Asia and Europe. Georgia spent decades under the Soviet Union’s communist rule before finally declaring its independence from Russia in 1991.
Since the break, Georgians have experienced continued political strife and economic hardship while, at the same time, their leaders have held aspirations to join the EU. The desire to belong, however, is much different than actually being in the position to sign an EU association agreement. While a signed agreement confirms a commitment of cooperation between member nations, it also requires proof of cooperation within the country for the welfare of its people.
The list to satisfy internal cooperation is long, and among the many points is the protection and security of persons and keeping the public order during natural disaster, catastrophe, and other emergency situations and rendering assistance to victims and helpless persons.
A consolidated communication center was built to complement the creation of a “1-1-2” emergency number program. The center is on a hilltop overlooking Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, and across the valley from the Mtatsminda Mountain Amusement Park. A famous Ferris wheel, perched at the park’s edge, provides one of the best views of the Caucasus Mountains in the distance.
“It’s beautiful,” said Tudy Benson, PDC director of European operations.
But as the Georgian emergency center directors discovered soon after the building’s construction, the know-how of establishing an efficient EMS system takes more than good looks and good intentions.
That’s where the Academy and protocol come in.
It didn’t take long for the emergency center’s leaders to find the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) after admitting they could use some expert advice. They sent an email to the IAED, and it was forwarded to Benson. She followed up the contact and invited them to attend Euro NAVIGATOR 2013 in Austria. Two months later, she was on a 17-hour flight to meet Louise Ganley, PDC’s U.K.-based clinical support representative, at the center in Tbilisi.
For four days, Benson and Ganley studied operations at the new center and the regional centers stripped down in the consolidation during white-knuckle drives in the backseat of their guide’s car.
“There are traffic jams all over, and all the time, and nobody stays in a lane,” Benson said. “We’re lucky to make it back alive.”
The experience of seeing first-hand the country’s approach to emergency communications was “interesting,” Benson said.
Each of the country’s 11 regions has a communication office, although bereft of calltakers since the consolidation. The calltakers are now in Tbilisi answering all calls made to 1-1-2 anywhere in the country. The center receives 35,000 calls a day, of which approximately 5,000 require response.
The balance of the calls can be chalked up to newness. This is the first time the country has had a single three-digit number to call in an emergency.
“You name it, and they call that number for information,” Benson said. “Some are hoaxes, kids playing on the phone, or misdials.”
Medical, fire, and police emergency calls involving Tbilisi are dispatched by landline to local agencies. The city has 87 basic life support (BLS) ambulances.
Emergencies occurring outside the city are dispatched by cellphone to the respective regional office. The caller’s name and address, and the nature of the complaint are repeated over the phone, and the dispatcher at the regional office copies down the information on a form given to responders.
There are no radios connecting the call center to response. Lights-and-siren is the generally accepted emergency travel mode. Arrival time is discretionary.
The inside of the center is configured differently than a standard center in the U.S.
For example, the perilous road trips explain why the first two rows of the central call center are occupied by police officers; they spend their day staring at a large screen showing live feeds of the city’s intersections. Drivers blowing through stoplights, or in other ways negligent while behind the wheel, as shown on screen, are mailed tickets as part of another public safety objective to maintain road safety.
There are parts in the country’s emergency medical process that don’t jive with standard procedures. The calltakers answer all three calls and transfer the calls to the fire-, medical-, or police-trained dispatchers. There is a quality assurance system in place, but “Qs” only give advice related to customer service, such as was the caller treated courteously, and did the calltaker understand the nature of the emergency and, consequently, handle the call in a professional manner.
“The center is a start, but they have tons and tons yet to learn,” Benson said. “Fortunately, they are very eager to learn the process of EMS, the operations and management of a communication center, and the necessity of all three protocols because they respond to police, fire, and medical emergencies.”
To help smooth the way, Jerry Overton, chair of IAED’s Emergency Clinical Advice System Program, will fly to Tbilisi to discuss the emergency medical service process. The Georgian emergency call center directors will visit Salt Lake City to tour the new public safety building, which includes the 9-1-1 Communications Bureau.
Admittedly, this is only the start, but if resolve is anything like the country’s zeal to become an EU member nation, it could be the start of something big for Georgia.
“They’re so proud of what they have been able to do,” Benson said. “They’re ready to go on to the next steps. They want a comprehensive system to provide the most advanced assistance available to their people.”
Georgia’s president-elect, Giorgi Margvelashvili, hopes to sign an Association Agreement with the EU in 2015.