Gold Cross Emergency Medical Service is trying to improve ambulance service in Columbia County by upgrading its dispatch center.
The private contractor that provides ambulance service for the county has spent more than $200,000 in the past two years to streamline the dispatch and response process, said Capt. Christopher Floyd, Gold Cross' communications director.
The newest addition to the dispatch center - a 40-inch LCD screen installed a few weeks ago - allows dispatchers to pinpoint the location of incidents and each of the county's six ambulances with a $160,000 satellite tracking system.
"The map shows the entire view (of the county and beyond) and speeds up response times and makes ambulance service safer period for staff and residents," said Pam Tucker, director of the county's Emergency Management Division. "It is a tremendous asset, especially during major situations."
The center, near Doctors Hospital in Augusta, was equipped with a Computer Aided Dispatch System and two new computer console upgrades. The system allows much more information about calls to be pulled up in the computer system, freeing up dispatchers to be on the telephone with 911 callers, Floyd said.
Gold Cross dispatcher Christa Duckworth works in front of the new system, which can track all the ambulances and helicopters in service and pinpoint any area location.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"It is a great, great tool," Floyd said. "It has taken a little adjusting, and working out the kinks has definitely been challenging. But at this point, the crew is used to using it now, and we are not having any problems."
Gold Cross responds to an average of 20 calls a day, Floyd said, with 30 percent of those patients transferred to a hospital in emergency mode.
Dispatchers quickly can determine where all ambulances are and which one is closest to an emergency situation, taking a lot of radio communications out of the process, Floyd said. Dispatchers can give exact locations with street directions to ambulances and helicopters. Unnecessary steps possibly can lengthen response times, and getting to the scene quicker with out confusion always helps.
"I can tell a difference as a whole," Floyd said. "The response times never made that big of a dip down, but (the satellite tracking system) has cut out a lot of the hunt-and-chase of it."
Gold Cross officials have purchased hardware to be installed into the two helicopters used for emergency transfers. The system already has helped helicopters locate and land at scenes as the system provides latitude and longitude coordinates, by which pilots land them, Tucker said.
Gold Cross is the only emergency provider in the region with satellite tracking capabilities, Floyd said, but he said he hopes other emergency service providers will follow suit.
"It is just streamlining the process," Floyd said. "We have worked with Pam (Tucker) for a long time, and it is nice to be on the same path. Columbia County is a county that strives to set a standard of excellence."
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