November 21, 2012
By Audrey Fraizer
It’s not exactly like stepping into a different world when attending the Euro and UK Navigator conferences in September, but the experience is a notable contrast from their predecessor Navigator held in North America.
There are similarities, of course. The conferences held in September—Euro 2012 in Berlin and UK 2012 in Bristol—clarify and promote the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch’s (IAEDR) philosophy and cater to the emergency services community. They also draw on the expertise of research, experience, and familiarity.
The contrast lies in the approach and the audience consequently attending the threeday conferences, particularly Euro Navigator, explained Tudy Benson, IAED director of European Relations.
“The focus is the academic and scientific appeal resulting from the Academy’s research and the protocol that develops from the process,” she said. “They want data. They want quantifiable evidence supporting protocol’s effectiveness.”
It’s not that North Americans are more easily persuaded.
“Hardly,” said IAED Conference Coordinator Claire Colborn. “But we have organized the conferences to better reflect the style of conference Europeans prefer.”
As far as approach, North Americans have been exposed to emergency medical dispatch protocol for more than 30 years, and while the same timeline basically applies to English-speaking countries in Europe, the same doesn’t hold true in the Germanspeaking and Low Countries, which include Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. Benson made her initial breakthrough in 1996 when Austrian Gernot Vergeiner, then manager of the Kufstein call center, traveled to the U.S. for an early NAED conference held at the Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah.
“He was interested in the protocol and purchased a set to take home to study,” Benson said. “He happened to have the cards in front of him when a call came in from a mother pleading to get help for her child. The child was choking and he used the protocol to give the mother instructions. The child survived.”
The episode made a strong proponent of Vergeiner, now the director of the consolidated Tirol Communications Center in Innsbruck, and he has worked with Benson and other Academy members to advance the use of protocol in countries now represented at Euro Navigator. Going on its sixth year in 2013, the last two years have seen big increases in attendance. The 124 attendees and 34 speakers show numbers 30% higher than 2011 and 106% higher than 2010.
Colborn said international Navigator planners stepped up three years ago to tailor the conference to European tastes.
“We weren’t missing the ball, but there were definite comparisons,” Colborn said. “The changes we introduced have been well accepted.”
These include sessions divided into specific blocks, such as quality assurance, dispatch life support, research, and less frequently occurring medical emergencies. Each block is further broken into 20-minute topic focused segments. For example, the morning might be dedicated to five 20-minute segments all covering quality assurance.
A second change is an emphasis away from purely a “user” audience. The international conferences attract an audience combining long-standing and recent protocol users, agencies considering protocol implementation, and people—particularly academics and medical professionals—interested in the research correlated to protocol outcomes. Euro Navigator even includes an “open mic” session in which users talk frankly about the implementation process.
“They’re candid and honest,” Benson said. “They admit to challenges along the way. It wasn’t always easy. But they also provide tips on how to get through issues they expect common to other agencies.”
UK Navigator saw similar increases in attendance, with 2012 numbers at 75 attendees and 17 speakers offering 21 sessions. Protocol users in the U.K. taught most of the sessions, which, Colborn said, has been a goal all along.
“It only makes sense for those most familiar with the U.K. to give the presentations,” she said.
A second welcome change, Colborn said, was the mix of people attending and their opportunity to network with others from varying backgrounds. Unlike the U.S., emergency call centers in the U.K. are not consolidated into one agency providing police, fire, and medical service.
“There is less interaction in the field because they operate separately,” Colborn said. “The great part about Navigator was watching everyone discuss what they did and exchanging ideas and experiences. Navigator brought them together.”
When it’s all said and done, Benson and Colborn come back to the states and their offices anticipating the next year’s conferences.
“These are my favorite people and I’m sincere when I say that,” Benson said. “I may talk to them daily over the phone, but it’s a real treat when we’re able to meet face-to-face and honestly hear how things are working out for them.”
Euro Navigator Dispatcher of the Year
Valerie-Salima Hodl from Leitstelle Tirol, Austria, is not easily surprised.
After all, she is an emergency medical dispatcher (EMD) for the Tirol Communications Center in Innsbruck, which has 18 dispatchers working in three shifts daily handling more than 220,000 events per year.
But in September, during the opening session of Euro Navigator in Berlin, Hodl was truly stunned by the unexpected.
Hodl heard her name called from stage in connection with the Dispatcher of the Year Award.
“Only a few people knew, and Valerie wasn’t one of them,” said Tudy Benson, IAED director of European Relations. “It took her a few minutes to realize that she was the dispatcher receiving the award. She was amazed.”
Hodl started in dispatch in 2004 and during the past eight years behind the console she has seen many modifications in the way the system operates.
She takes it in stride, said Director Gernot Vergeiner, who was present when the award was announced.
“Valerie has the ability to move with the changes,” Vergeiner said. “That’s one of her strengths. This is one of the few times I’ve ever seen her taken off guard.”
Tirol is a regional center, consolidated from several centers over the past five years to coordinate response, particularly in light of disasters that demand multiple agencies. The Avalanche Disaster of Galtur in February 1999, Vergeiner said, was the tipping point.
“It was the worse avalanche in the Alps for 30 years, and despite heroic efforts to rescue people, we knew changes were in order,” said Vergeiner, then manager of the Kufstein call center that was folded into the consolidated center in Innsbruck. “We needed a central point to coordinate emergency services.”
According to news reports, heavy winds affecting above normal snow mass near the Tirolean village of Galtur created powder snow avalanches that in one day buried 60 people and killed 31. Homes and businesses were destroyed. Roads blocked by debris were closed in the immediate aftermath, forcing helicopter evacuation of 12,500 people. No other transportation could reach the valley.
The massive rescue efforts in the supposedly safe zone signaled changes in risk zone management and the urgency for regional emergency service oversight coordinated by a central control center.
Tirol and Innsbruck finalized plans for a National Control Center in 2003, and the building in Innsbruck opened for operation four years later.
“We coordinate all Tirolean forces, except police,” Vergeiner said. “It was a huge project that took the cooperation of many organizations. Everyone agrees it was the right goal.”
The facility is ultra-modern and allows for future improvements. Technology includes an integrated digital map display with address data identifying the location of public buildings, mountaintops, and emergency call boxes along highways and ski lifts. Dispatchers process calls using the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) and the Fire Priority Dispatch System (FPDS).
CEO Mag Ing Martin Eberharter congratulated Hodl for the dedication and outstanding service, he said, that led to the recognition. “She puts the needs of others above her own, making her contributions very valuable to the people seeking help from our control center,” he said.
The Tirol Communications Center serves a population of more than 700,000 people residing in the 270 municipalities making up the area’s nine districts.
UK Navigator Dispatcher of the Year
By Beverley Logan
The UK Navigator 2012 Dispatcher of the Year Award went to Elisa Harrison, EMD, Bracebridge Emergency Operations Control (EOC) within East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) NHS Trust. Prior to receiving the award at UK Navigator, she received a BBC 999 Award.
EMAS Service Delivery Manager Simon Tomlinson wrote this about Harrison:
Elisa Harrison has always approached her role with a consummate professionalism and dedication to duty. Elisa is passionate about the EMD role and has a genuine belief that she can make a difference in the patient experience. She sets a very worthy example to other EMDs and other staff groups in EOC in striving to be the best she possibly can be and I, personally and as the Service Delivery Manager for EOC, along with the rest of EOC and EMAS are immensely proud of Elisa’s achievements. It is testament to Elisa’s nature that she has received the BBC 999 Award with humility and appreciation but is just as grateful that the awards recognize the role and raise the profile of the EMD within the patient experience.
The following story is a summary of a call Harrison answered in March 2012. Tomlinson submitted the audiotape as part of Harrison’s nomination.
In March 2012 Elisa took a call from a father who had found his baby son lying face down in a pond not breathing. Taking the father through the AMPDS™, Elisa instructed the father on how to perform CPR to his 1-year- old son.
Elisa could hear the fear, anxiety, and terror in the caller’s voice immediately on receipt of the call. For the next 17 minutes, she calmly provided reassurance and clear instructions in an attempt to ensure the 1-year-old received effective CPR from his father through to when the paramedics arrived.
She encouraged the little boy’s parents— the father having made the call and mother who arrived on the scene during the call—to continue with the CPR instructions.
Prospects for survival were not good when paramedics arrived, according to the boy’s mother.
“Due to the time frame, they believed the baby had little chance,” she said.
The prognosis changed dramatically once the Lincolnshire & Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance reached the hospital; his heart was beating. Needless to say, the parents were grateful for the help they had received.
Tomlinson credited Harrison and the protocol for the boy’s survival.
“If Elisa had not followed protocol, supported with reassurance and empathy, it is highly likely the little boy would not have survived,” he said. “In my career as a control room manager, I have never heard an EMD talk callers through CPR instruc - tions as well as Elisa did that day. It was a superb call and if she had not persisted the outcome would be very different.”
Harrison took the call in stride.
“This is my job and this is what we do,” she later said.
The boy, now 17 months old, is recovering well and making good progress.
“They want to stay in touch with Elisa and keep her posted on his recovery,” Tomlinson said.
In appreciation of the help and encouragement since the accident, the family is raising funds for the Lincolnshire & Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance Service. The service is completely voluntary and depends on donations and fundraising to cover its operational costs. It receives no funding through the NHS Trust.