Emergency response system overhaul

  • 2010-08-11
  • From wire reports

TALLINN - The control rooms and rescue services of Estonia are being updated and optimized for speed and efficiency with Swiss funds to boost cohesion within the European Union, reports news agency LETA. The Estonian emergency response system is hampered by outdated technology and a fragmented structure.
To make matters worse, vast tracts of the country are only sparsely populated and poorly served. “If someone drives from Tallinn to Tartu and has an accident in the forest, he won’t know where he or she is; outside the capital, we have many large forests but almost no houses,” says Rivo Salong, the project leader for the reform of the Estonian emergency response system.

The improvements focus on the introduction of a standard emergency number for the police, fire brigade and rescue services, and the computerization of the control rooms and the vehicles.
Switzerland is contributing 3.1 million U.S. dollars to the reform of the Estonian emergency response and ambulance system. It is part of its enlargement contribution that aims to reduce the social and economic disadvantages of the new EU member countries. The money will be spent on computers, servers and software as well as training.

At present, ambulances are in contact with the control service by radio. If the head of operations wants to send an ambulance to an emergency situation, he must first find out exactly where the emergency is taking place and where the closest ambulance is. This is time consuming and quite unreliable. “Sometimes ambulance drivers only find the location after a long search, because new districts or streets are not yet shown on any maps,” says Salong.

Efficient coordination of the rescue forces is also made difficult by the fact that the police have their own emergency number and control rooms. In the future there will be only one number and four control rooms spread across the country. This was recently decided on by the Estonian parliament after lengthy discussions. Moreover, a new building will be constructed for Tallinn - the country’s most populated region by far.

“By 2014, there will definitely be only one number,” says Salong. “Until then, we have time to train our staff and to merge the two different working cultures and mentalities.” The main differences between the working cultures of the police and the other services is that the police are more decentralized and their deployment policy is less clearly regulated, he says.
The response vehicles are equipped with modern computers and wireless Internet. The technology enables the fire brigade’s rescue team to find out any time when the ambulance or police are due to arrive on the scene. The head of operations in the call center coordinates the deployment. As a result, patients and accident victims will also be provided with better medical care in the future.

At present, the paramedics enter the patient data and any medical procedures administered in the ambulance on a form. Hospital staff then have to type the hand-written patient information into the hospital database. “This is very time-consuming and an unnecessary duplication of work,” says project leader Katrin Rahu.
In the future, the paramedic will enter the data straight into the system, and hospital staff will have access to it even before the ambulance arrives and be able to prepare the necessary medical procedures. “This will enable us to make considerable improvements to the ambulance service,” Rahu notes. The authorities hope the new digital emergency system will be operational by 2012.