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September 28th, 2007
Charleston County, South Carolina, Deploys GIS for Improved Emergency Medical Services Response

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Charleston County, South Carolina, now uses a powerful geographic information system (GIS) solution in its emergency medical services (EMS) to improve routing and response. The solution replaces previous paper-based methods to provide faster and more accurate vehicle tracking and routing, ultimately supplying better service to those in need. Charleston County selected ESRI software-based Mobile Area Routing and Vehicle Location Information System (MARVLIS) from Bradshaw Consulting Services, Inc. (BCS), an ESRI business partner. In addition, BCS provided consulting services and application customization. The county began using the solution in the first quarter of 2007. The system underwent a thorough pilot program and testing before full deployment. MARVLIS uses ESRI technologies including ArcView and ArcGIS Spatial Analyst, NetEngine, and MapObjects.

“I’ve been really excited about just how much improvement there has been since we started using this solution,” says Don Lundy, EMS director, Charleston County, South Carolina. “This is a very sophisticated system that helps dispatchers visually understand, before an incident occurs, where vehicles are, what the coverage is, and where they need to be. Then when an incident occurs, it takes the guesswork out of finding the best route. I think conservatively it can save two minutes on a response. That might not sound like much, but it can mean all the difference in a response to someone who makes an emergency call and has chest pain.”

“MARVLIS is a state-of-the-art GIS application that raises resource status management to new heights,” says Russ Johnson, public safety industry manager, ESRI. “Having the ability to display the actual location of EMS units and their dynamic four-minute response capability polygons, as they move, results in reduced response times and lives saved.”

Approximately 35 county EMS vehicles have the GIS solution available using mobile, in-vehicle laptop computers. The solution fully integrates with the county’s existing TriTech computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. Dispatchers working at the command center view a digital map of the county service area with the locations of EMS vehicles tracked live on the map using GPS units. When an emergency occurs, EMS dispatchers can visually identify the location of an incident, the nearest or quickest EMS response vehicle, and best route for sending a dispatch. Additional data such as vehicle speed, location, and direction are relayed to the CAD system every 3 to 90 seconds. For instance, if a problem occurs with a responding vehicle, the dispatcher can visually see the location of the next best available EMS crew. A new EMS vehicle can then be instantly selected for deployment.

For responding crews, as soon as a dispatch is sent to their location, they can jump into a vehicle, turn on their computer, and instantly see where they need to go and how best to get there. No time is wasted thumbing through map books or calling dispatch for directions. Prior to an incident, EMS staff working in the field can also use GIS to view a digital map showing their own location and the service area’s street network.

In addition, the county EMS agency now uses street data that is updated automatically on a regular basis. EMS staff can help better maintain street data by contacting county GIS staff immediately with new street data updates such as a temporary roadblock, downed bridge, or new road detour. Map updates for first responders can be made within hours rather than days or weeks. The GIS solution can also fully integrate with the county’s existing ESRI enterprise GIS system. This allows EMS staff to take advantage of existing county GIS resources.

Future plans include dynamic deployment planning where incident commanders can look at historical data to evaluate the best possible locations for EMS stations and posting vehicles. EMS dispatchers will soon be able to view a map with vehicle service areas to help improve the county benchmark for vehicle response time.

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