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Technology helps short-staffed EMS keep up fast pace

Seeing the same operating picture through the Hexagon Mobile for Public Safety software helps HEMSI optimize staffing resources

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Hemsi COO Dea Calce.jpg

HEMSI keeps units running by having a full picture of where units are in the county.


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It all started with COVID. Since the pandemic turned the world upside down, Emergency Medical Services worldwide can’t find enough people.

It’s not that Emergency Medical Services Providers (EMSP) are afraid of the virus, or even that people making the choice to join EMS as a career were scared away by the pandemic. Community colleges, the main source of EMS training courses nationwide, were shut down just like everything else.

For nearly two years, the pipeline of new EMSP slowed to a trickle. Patients did not, especially in Huntsville, Alabama, one of the country’s fastest-growing metro areas thanks to a recent explosion of automotive and government jobs.

“At one point, we were running at about 65 percent strength,” said Dea Calce, Chief Operations Officer of Huntsville Emergency Medical Services Inc., or HEMSI.

Faced with a critical drought of recruits, HEMSI did what many EMS outfits nationwide were forced to do: create their own EMS Academy, certifying classes of a dozen or so every 10 weeks. The academy stemmed the losses and today HEMSI has more than 300 employees running 38 units, up from 265 and 36 a couple of years ago. That’s still not full strength.

The dynamics of being an EMT or paramedic have changed. Despite gaining back staffing, “we’re closing stations,” said Don Webster, HEMSI’s community relations officer.

That’s not because there’s no one to fill them, Webster said. To deal with staffing shortages, HEMSI tailored schedules to the needs of the employees, running shorter hours and more days in most cases. “Nobody spends the night,” Webster said. “In most cases, they don’t even have to go to the station,” they just stay in their units and stay busy, for the most part.

Keeping all those units running without wasting available staffing wouldn’t be possible without technology, said Calce. At HEMSI headquarters he’s able to log into the Hexagon CAD system they’re using at the county 911 center and see a full picture of where his units are, as well as fire and police.

Units in the field can see the same common operating picture through the Hexagon Mobile for Public Safety software on the mobile data terminal in each ambulance. The hope is that soon, supervisors will be able to log directly into a CAD app from a mobile device.

Advanced dispatch systems like the Hexagon solution employed in HEMSI’s home of Madison County, Alabama, use algorithms and real-time data analysis to optimize resource allocation and deployment.

Not only can they see where the units are, but how fast they’re driving, and, with the help of artificial intelligence, can even predict which EMT is taking his or her turn at the wheel and how long they’ve been on duty. Some EMS agencies have their EMTs and paramedics strap on wearable health monitors, so management knows when it’s time to pull someone off the road. All these technologies help prevent burnout and optimize how resources are allocated.

Other apps show the data from each vehicle – cardiac monitors, temperature, etc. – and whether more than three units are “on the wall,” or out of service waiting on a bed at the local hospital.

“That definitely helps us gain some situational awareness,” Calce said. “It helps us be safer and more efficient.”

Staffing issues for EMS providers across the nation aren’t going away, despite the retreat of the pandemic. Dealing with it going forward will require innovative thinking and technological modernization.

When you can tap into your 911 center’s CAD system and get a district-wide operational picture, it helps EMS agencies make time-saving decisions about unit placement and response. AI analytics can base decisions about shifts and staffing on numbers instead of intuition.

The ability to use real-time, cloud-based collaboration with public safety partners like police, fire and the hospital makes coordination less hectic, outcomes more successful and overworked EMSP happier.

To learn how Hexagon can help your EMS agency, visit