Pinnacle 2023 Quick Take: Improving scene safety with technology
Incorporating real-time and body-worn camera footage into emergency preparedness, training and response
SAN ANTONIO — While every medic knows to assess scene safety when they arrive at a call, at Pinnacle 2023, attendees learned about the tools and solutions available that can improve operational awareness, preparedness and safety.
In a Wednesday morning session, Brandon Hill, MA LP, EMS1-I, division chief, City of Shertz EMS, broke down the results of a study on body-worn camera (BWC) adoption. Joining Hill, Clay Carpetnter, deputy chief of the Frisco [Texas] Fire Department, and Susan Olson, assistant director of IT for the City of Frisco, shared insights from the Situational Awareness for Emergency Response (S.A.F.E.R.) program that provides first responders in Frisco immediate access to floor plans and real time video in their response areas.
Following are memorable quotes from the discussion.
“None of you are going to have the time to go back through hours of footage to look for something to get them in trouble or for them talking about you – the only time you go back through is when there is a complaint.” — Brandon Hill
“Safety is a top priority for any of our medics.” — Brandon Hill
“We get around HIPAA because we use it for QA; we use it for operational purposes.” — Brandon Hill
“Paramedics don’t like the way things are, but they don’t want change.” — Brandon Hill
“We all want to strengthen our training program and if we know the mistakes that are happening in the field, we can correct those.” — Brandon Hill
“By presenting the right data to the right person at the right time, we instantly know the state of the city.” — Susan Olson
The presenters acknowledged the importance of research and use cases in overcoming technology adoption reluctance.
Hill polled the audience:
- How many were using BWCs? None
- How may were using dashcam video and had realized the benefits? About hal
- How many had received complaints about medics? All
Following are 3 takeaways from the session.
1. Dispelling BWC concerns
Hill noted an announcement of BWC implementation is not usually met with universal approval. However, he was able to ease many of the concerns medics have about BWCs.
- Punitive uses. According to Hill’s survey, the biggest concern medics cited about BWC implementation is punitive measures. There is a “sterile cockpit” concern, he noted, “that is a very private area that cab of that truck.” Whether it’s decisions made during patient care or the conversation on the way back from the hospital – there is a concern about spying, and repercussions for mistakes or complaints alike.
Hill assured attendees, chiefs do not have the time to review footage for things to get people in trouble over. There is simply too much footage and too little time. The only calls likely to be reviewed are those when there is a complaint, or the high-acuity calls that can be used for training purposes.
Legal repercussions. Another initial concern voiced by medics: HIPAA. How can we film patients in the ambulance? While Texas, like 37 other states, is a one-party consent state, which means only one party – the medic – needs to know the interaction is being recorded.
Additionally, because the footage is being used for operational purposes for QA/QI, HIPAA does not apply, Hill shared. “You do have to have policies in place,” he noted, “what’s discoverable, what’s not, who has access, how long its going to be stored.”
- Costs. A more legitimate concern is the cost of implementing BWcs. These costs go beyond the initial equipment purchase, Hill noted. There are the additional costs for servers to store, access and retain BWC footage. If you run 15,000 calls a year, it’s a cumulative cost to retain that footage.
2. BWC benefits
The survey respondents’ initial take: 48% were for BWC implementation and 52% were against it. However, 47% noted they had experienced a call in which a BWC would have been beneficial. Hill’s conclusion? There is a place for body cameras in EMS, for the following benefits:
- Safety. Violence against EMS workers is 30 times higher than national average, Hill noted. BWCs are a proven deterrent. He cited a 2015 study by the University of Southern Florida, which identified a 53% decrease in violence committed against officers wearing BWCs compared to officers who didn’t wear them.
- Evidence. BWC footage is the final word, exonerating those who have done no wrongdoing, and holding accountable those who act out violently. BWC footage simplifies the process of investigating a claim.
- QA/QI. Make your system better by using video of high acuity calls as an education tool with a focus on training.
3. Don’t stop at body-worn cameras
Following Hill, Carpenter and Olson shared how full government and public safety collaboration to share floorplans and real-time footage from traffic cameras and in schools has benefited the City of Frisco emergency preparedness and response.
Their in-house software program, SAFER, incorporates these resources into a GIS platform to allow first responders to make real-time decisions in an emergency. They shared a few examples of how SAFER has improved responses:
- In a traffic collision, the responding units can visualize the scene using traffic camera footage to know exactly where the vehicles are located, how to approach them and the severity of the accident. “You’ve already started the scene size-up miles away,” Carpenter said.
- In another response, firefighters turned out to a reported fire in a school laundry room. In-school footage showing billowing smoke and the school floorplan gave the responding unites the information that this was not a run-of-the mill alarm, and exactly where to deploy.
- In a final example, they shared footage from a hazmat call. Inputting the information from the gas company (a 4-inch line rupture), and weather conditions into the software algorithm produced a data-based impact zone and visual, informing which residents needed to evacuate and which roads needed to be closed.
Data visualizations like these can provide more information download in a quick response than reading a bunch of notes, and truly allow all city departments to come together.
Learn more about the City of Frisco’s SAFER Program: