What America Can Learn From Israel’s Emergency Responders

An innovative app is just one example of the power of public-private collaboration to save lives.
by | January 24, 2017

Mark D. Lebow

Chairman of the board of American Friends of Magen David Adom

Every child learns at an early age what to do in an emergency. Before anything else, we're taught to pick up the phone and dial 911 because we know that means help will soon be on the way.

We call 911 during the worst moments of our lives. But what happens if we're too overwhelmed to communicate important details? If we can't speak for fear of being discovered by an intruder? If we don't know how to direct the operator to our location?

These are problems that everyone from small-town police chiefs to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission have been trying to solve for decades. Text-to-911 capabilities -- among other "next generation" emergency-response communications -- are becoming more common, but change is coming slowly for emergency systems that operate differently in every community in America and that are overwhelmingly unable to keep up with rapid advancements in personal technology.

To know that we can do better, we only have to look to a new model that is becoming the norm in Israel. Magen David Adom (MDA), which is Israel's national Red Cross affiliate and functions as the nation's official emergency-response service, is exceptionally effective at saving lives through innovative partnerships and tools that help its paramedics get to patients faster and treat them more efficiently and effectively.

MDA's new smartphone app, for instance, connects all of Israel to one national emergency-response system and incorporates state-of-the-art technology, including the ability to livestream video of an emergency directly to a command-and-control center so first-responders can assess a patient's condition before they set foot on the scene. Now, for the first time anywhere in the world, paramedics and EMTs are no longer working blindly before arriving at the scene of an emergency. The "My MDA" app's geolocation capability also gives operators the exact location of the emergency and allows victims and anxious bystanders to track vehicles en route to their location. And it lets users preload crucial medical information about family members, such as pre-existing conditions and prescribed medications.

The app, and its associated technologies, has attracted the attention and cooperation of private-sector businesses seeking to create their own, complimentary systems, such as Reporty, a public-safety mobile app backed by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak.

But the MDA app is hardly the only example of its work with the business community to improve public health. The first generation of MDA's innovative national command-and-control center was developed by Ness Technologies, a Tel Aviv-based IT company. The current center -- unique in the world as a mechanism that integrates so many tools into one centralized system -- enlists the support of several American companies, including mapping technology created by Esri and specialized telephone communication systems developed by Interactive Intelligence.

Collaborations also help MDA on the ground: It partnered with a Jerusalem-based medical device developer, Oridion Systems, to create a tool that measures the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled by a patient, enabling first responders to accurately ventilate a patient and assess next steps. And more than a decade has passed since MDA collaborated with Israel's Technion Institute of Technology to develop and field-test the nation's first "bone injection gun" for safe intraosseous infusions -- delivering vital fluids directly into a patient's bone marrow.

We could use such technologies and partnerships here in the United States, but the disparate nature of municipal emergency-response systems makes innovation on a large scale challenging. Efforts to overhaul and upgrade technology have been plagued with infrastructure and budgetary problems that we have left local law-enforcement and other public-safety agencies to deal with on their own. And while it was encouraging to know that senior officials from various U.S. federal agencies came away thoroughly impressed with MDA's advancements after a recent trip to Israel, more can be done.

We should continue following MDA's example by enlisting the best technological minds in our communities to partner with public agencies. These public-private partnerships are our best chance to develop next-generation emergency-response systems that not only work better than the analog systems they are replacing but also increase our ability to save lives.

Discuss

ABOUT VOICES

VOICES is curated by the Governing Institute, which seeks out practitioners and observers whose perspective and insight add to the public conversation about state and local government. For more information or to submit an article to be considered for publication, please contact editor John Martin.

More from Public Safety & Justice