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December 18, 2012 > PulsePoint saves lives

PulsePoint saves lives

By William Marshak

It seemed like a good idea when San Ramon Valley Fire District started the program over two years ago. However, important questions remained... Who will show up to an emergency? Will dispatch be flooded with calls as a result of this? What will the impact be? Initial fears and reservations were swept away by the results.

Alameda County Fire Chief Demetrious Shaffer is convinced that PulsePoint, a system to "ping" registrants close to a Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) emergency on cell phone devices, has resulted in fast response times and a blanket of first responders to help a person in distress even before emergency medical personnel are able to arrive. As a registered participant of PulsePoint, Shaffer has actually been involved in a PulsePoint action.

He says, "If I was sitting here and a medical event such as a heart attack occurred next door, unless someone was aware of my presence and ability to help, I wouldn't know about it until the emergency vehicle arrived. That is bad because I am right here and could help, even with basic CPR." What PulsePoint does is to notify those within a limited radius (1/4 mile) who signed up for the PulsePoint application on their cell phone device.

The idea is that if someone is within walking distance and can do something while dispatch is occurring and the rig is on its way, three or four minutes can be saved. Immediate CPR can make a difference, not only in the matter of survival but in a victim's quality of life following recovery from a medical emergency. "It's not just about saving a person's life; it's also about the person's quality of life after they are saved. The length of time without any care until receiving advanced life support is critical, their organs are not getting what they need, so even if we able to save them, the quality of life can be improved greatly by having something done during that time. PulsePoint is a total game changer," says Shaffer. "It brings the community including off duty fire fighters, police, health care workers and those trained to help into the picture."

Shaffer says that when a 911 call is received at the Alameda County Regional Communications Center [or another participating jurisdiction] reporting someone in a public space who is unconscious, unresponsive and likely in need of CPR, Fire and EMS resources are dispatched and simultaneously, software running at PulsePoint will send an alert to nearby citizen rescuers via their phone. The application, which crosses department jurisdictions, uses GPS and location technology in mobile devices to notify only those who are within a 300' distance to the emergency. When alerted, the application indicates both the location of the patient and the location of the nearest Automated Electronic Defibrillator (AED). The CPR notification works in jurisdictions where the application is active.

Response by those in range is not tracked but if action is taken by a registrant, a note will be part of the first responder report. For those who do respond or are within range of a "ping," a voluntary survey builds a database of information that can help "fine tune" the program and increase its effectiveness; without the application, general response by the public to a CPR incident prior to arrival by first responders is only 25%. And of those times, use of an AED, even if readily available, is only 3%. "We are trying to find out why the AED isn't used; no training is necessary since the apparatus is self explanatory and automatic; it guides an operator by voiced instructions." Fail safe features built into the AED apparatus are designed to block inappropriate use.

Currently there is an emphasis on training so as many people as possible will be able to respond. Good Samaritan laws protect those who choose to aid others without fear of lawsuits for unintentional injury or wrongful death.

Additional features of PulsePoint include a recent and active incident feature, a radio application that allows you to monitor radio traffic via and a mapping feature that can be viewed in map or satellite mode. You can also choose to be notified of additional call types that you determine in the settings function. Additional notifications can be made for call types such as structure fires, vegetation fires, traffic collisions, etc., no matter your proximity to the incident.

The application is available free via the Apple Store or Android Market to anyone who indicates that they want to be notified when CPR is needed. Simply search PulsePoint in the Apple App Store or in Android Apps on Google Play.

Additional information is available at

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