The tragedy in Paris on November 13th has struck a chord with everyone worldwide. In particular, I’d like to recognize the heroic feat of first responders despite the challenges they faced. Having been in the field as an EMT for over 10 years in Austria, I can only imagine the intense moments when first responders in Paris were inundated by calls to respond to the near-simultaneous attacks. For someone who has spent thousands of hours in the back of an ambulance, it is sometimes easy to believe that I’ve “seen it all” and nothing new could shock me. The truth is that in 10 years as an EMT, I’ve never experienced anything like the Paris attacks, and very few of my colleagues across Europe have gotten close to a disaster of that magnitude. We cannot thank the first responders enough for rushing into harm’s way to save and protect civilians and for their commitment and dedication to saving lives.
Given the number of casualties and multiple locations of the attacks, it can be expected that the wireless network was overwhelmed with people flooding emergency lines with calls and also people desperately trying to reach loved ones to see if they were safe. This spike in call volume typically results in people experiencing delays in getting through to emergency dispatchers. In some cases, the caller’s cellular connectivity might have been weak, causing more stress on victims that they were unable to make that call to emergency services.
In addition, callers in distress are often unable to articulate their exact location or are unable to speak if they are hurt or in danger. People affected by the tragedy tried every channel they could think of to reach help and alert the world of what was going on. We even saw reports of people trapped inside the Bataclan concert hall using Twitter to give the outside world a glimpse of the tragedy happening inside.
Police rushing to the scene were tasked with extricating innocent people out of harm’s way while at the same time trying to determine the identity of the perpetrators to make the scene safe. First-hand pictures and videos from victims, like the ones posted to Twitter and other social media sites, can be used to help authorities identify attackers and provide important evidence for the police to use.
During the attacks, nothing stood still – there would have been other individuals who had medical conditions (e.g. cardiac arrest) or other emergencies (e.g. fire and car crashes) unrelated to the attacks and those people would have also been trying to contact first responders. These layers of complexity in a real-world situation are the sobering challenges that emergency infrastructures face worldwide. Emergency dispatchers and first responders work valiantly in spite of such challenges to bring care to those in need.
The attacks on Paris presented extremely challenging scenarios for first responders. With multiple scenes to respond to all at the same time, it would have been next to impossible to match the number of appropriate ambulance units to suit every patient’s needs. And even if enough ambulances were available, rushing everybody to hospitals simultaneously would have flooded all emergency departments and operating theatres within minutes. The process of triaging – used to determine priority of patients – was likely an overwhelming experience on the scene. The stress on everyone involved in this tragedy was palpable and must have been overwhelming.
All of these scenarios are something that the RapidSOS team and I think through daily, trying to figure out how we can help make things better. While we hope that such tragic events never happen, in the event that any emergency does occur, RapidSOS is working on a solution that helps first responders find you quickly and improve outcomes. We will use the lessons of bravery and heroism that we learned from the first responders and people of Paris to help better our technology. Please stay tuned as we build our technology to help save lives.