Optimizing rescue services

Jun 2017

Infrastructure

When it comes to infrastructure, simply upgrading and maintaining roads, installing safety systems and introducing no-overtaking zones and speed limits along hazardous stretches of road are themselves not enough. Additional optimization potential also lies with, among other things, the rescue services. After an accident, it is vital that the scene of the accident and the situation at the scene, for example, is reported quickly and as accurately as possible so that the right life-saving equipment and support vehicles can be deployed to the scene of the accident as quickly as possible.

Automatic emergency call systems play a key role here, while standardized emergency numbers ensure significant improvements. In the USA and Canada, the number “911” has been in use for many years as the emergency number for the police, rescue services and fire department. In Europe, lots of different emergency numbers are in use. Thanks to the introduction of the Europe-wide emergency number “112”, the public can now reach a permanently manned and at least English-speaking control center throughout Europe and in many neighboring countries. A standardized emergency number is also the basis for eCall systems, in which the calls are not routed to a dedicated emergency call center. The emergency numbers are known to the road users and the caller does not have to select a specific service – whether the police, rescue services, fire department or a combination of these services are needed. In addition, all emergency calls relating to an incident are routed to one control center, where the information received is quickly evaluated so that the appropriate measures can be implemented.

To reduce the response time of the police, fire department and rescue services, the use of GPS in emergency vehicles is recommended. In this way, the control center responsible can see the location of each rescue vehicle, which, in turn, means that the nearest available rescue equipment can be commissioned. Measures to ensure that rescue vehicles can reach their destinations without obstruction must be firmly anchored in infrastructure planning. In urban areas in particular, traffic flows and speed are reduced by various structural measures. However, such measures can make it harder for rescue vehicles to reach the scene of an accident –at any time of the day, never mind just during rush hour. Priority light control systems designed to ease the passage of rescue vehicles responding to incidents have been in place for many years now in many different forms. When an emergency vehicle approaches a light-controlled intersection, the lights change to allow backed-up traffic along the route of the emergency vehicle to start moving and ensure that the emergency vehicle can pass through a green light. However, such systems have to be integrated in the traffic light controller such that the responding emergency vehicles do not cause additional traffic jams due to incompatibilities with the traffic control center’s computer.

To minimize any potential traffic restrictions, the time taken for the emergency services to respond, carry out the necessary rescue operations and clear the scene of the accident must be kept to a minimum in order to ensure that the affected section of road can be reopened as quickly as possible. An approach employed in the Netherlands appears to be highly effective here. As part of a raff of measures aimed at keeping the amount of time a road is blocked off and the resulting traffic jams to a minimum, the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, which belongs to the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, has entered into an agreement with insurance companies. This agreement states that when an accident is reported, at least one breakdown/rescue vehicle is automatically deployed. In the event of a false alarm, the cost of the deployment is borne by the ministry; in all other cases, the cost is borne by the insurance company. This measure has reduced the breakdown service’s response time to actual incidents (as opposed to false alarms) by an average of 15 minutes. The system has been introduced on all main roads and on some of the regional road network.

Sevuring the safety of vehicles involved in accidents or that have broken down

Measures designed to secure the safety of vehicles on or on the side of the road that have either been involved in an accident or have broken down are also crucial for avoiding accidents and promoting road safety. Warning triangles are used in many countries all over the world. The bright red, reflective warning triangle is not only easily recognizable but also highly effective as a warning system. However, its full effect can be achieved only if it is properly erected and positioned. Binding specifications in this regard help to make life easier for people who are already in a stressful emergency situation. UNECE-R 27-approved warning triangles also feature fluorescent strips around the perimeter that, thanks to photoluminescence, can be seen even more clearly and from a greater distance when natural light shines onto them. Active light elements further enhance the warning effect. Hazard warning lights have for a long time been mandatory on motor vehicles; drivers of vehicles weighing 3.5 t or more also have to carry a portable warning light. Modern LED technology and cost-effective longlife batteries make this increase in safety easy to implement – but the legal framework needs to be put in place first.

In addition, however, officers from fire department and rescue response teams and other similar organizations have to be trained in how to properly secure the scene of an accident. Many breakdown service providers offer excellent training in this field. In addition to ensuring the safety of the response personnel, properly secured areas with clear route guidance make it easier for passing motorists to find their way past the scene of an accident. As well as training measures for the response teams, the response vehicles themselves of course also have to be provided with their own safety systems and material.

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