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Local Dispatcher Takes His Study Of Emergency Response To China



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Local Dispatcher Takes His Study Of Emergency Response To China

By Kaaren Valenta

Jim Crouch stood in the middle of the operations room of the Hong Kong Police Command, watching the dispatchers handle one emergency call after another. Suddenly his attention was riveted by a call for help for a victim trapped in his car at a motor vehicle accident inside a tunnel at the height of rush hour.

“The first thing I noticed was how calm all the dispatchers remained,” Mr Crouch said. “But what really impressed me most about Hong Kong emergency services was that they have 26 motorcycle ambulances that carry defibrillators and first aid kits. The [regular] ambulance had to park outside the tunnel but a motorcycle can get right up to the scene.”

Newtown’s chief 911 emergency services dispatcher was in Mainland China and Hong Kong recently as part of the People-to-People Ambassador Program initiated by the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mr Crouch was part of an entourage of 17 public safety communications delegates and four guests, representing five countries, who spent 10 days in the Far East.

“It was both a professional and a cultural package,” Mr Crouch said in an interview after he returned from his trip. “Our days were very full. Each day we would leave the hotel at 8 am and wouldn’t return until 7 pm or later.”

The delegation leader was Capt Joseph Hannah, president of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International, and manager of communications for the Richardson (Texas) Police Department.  Chinese guides and translators accompanied the delegation in its tour of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

“Beijing, the northeastern capital of China, governs more than 3.5 million square miles of territory and no less than 20 percent of the world population,” Mr Crouch said, referring to information provided by the People-to-People program. “It’s the biggest city in terms of area and the number one financial city in China.”

A well-seasoned traveler who has lived in Thailand, Mr Crouch nonetheless was very impressed with what he saw in China. “Any emergency personnel in the United States would be proud to have centers like the ones we saw in China,” he said.

In their first full day in Beijing, the delegation had three meetings planned with officials from local emergency service providers.

Different Numbers

Unlike the United States, where 911 generally is recognized as the universal emergency telephone number, Mainland China’s emergency services are provided through three telephone numbers: 110 for police, 120 for medical emergencies, and 119 for fire, all operating out of separate centers. In Hong Kong, there is one number, 999, with police dispatchers transferring ambulance and fire calls to those service centers.

“The problem is that there are not many phones in China,” Mr Crouch said. “Seventeen percent of the population in the cities have phones, according to 1995 figures; in 1996 there were 3.6 million cell phones and 100 alarm service stations that receive 110 calls.”

All the 110 calls are answered by police officers, he said. “When someone dials 110 the dispatcher will get a display that shows the telephone number and the person’s name. It’s called an intelligent system and is the equivalent of an enhanced 911 system [in the United States]. Ninety-seven percent of the largest cities and 75 percent of the smaller ones have access to the system. ”

In the command center, 40 television screens provided camera views of traffic all over the district. The screens and two rows of Compac computer terminals and equipment made up what is known in China as an “electronic cop.”

“They didn’t explain what that term means but, if you think about it, you might get a traffic ticket via the mail,” Mr Crouch said.

Responses to emergency calls are quick, he said. There are 136 police areas in Beijing with officers in cars, on foot, motorcycles, and horseback. Police arrive generally within five minutes of a call in urban areas, 10 minutes in residential areas, and 20 minutes in suburban areas, similar to US standards.

All 120 medical emergency calls are answered by doctors, Mr Crouch said, but in all of Beijing there are only about 80 ambulances. There are no emergency service technicians (EMTs) in Mainland China; a doctor and a nurse typically will respond when an ambulance is called.

“For motor vehicle accidents usually police cars are sent first, and they get there before the ambulance,” he said. “There are far fewer emergency calls [based on population] in China than in the United States because of the cultural differences. In China the people do not want to ‘lose face.’ They want to work out their problems without calling the police so they are less likely to dial 110. If there is an injury at a motor vehicle accident, they usually will use a taxi. It’s quicker than waiting for an ambulance, which is also very expensive. It costs half of the average person’s monthly salary to use an ambulance, according to representatives of Motorola China LTD, that met with our delegation.”

Motorola personnel also explained that fire services are different in China than in the United States, partly because most areas have no budget for sophisticated fire equipment and protective firefighter gear.

“[The firefighters] wet down the buildings next to the one on fire to keep it from spreading, but they usually don’t go into a burning building – they let the fire burn itself out,” he explained. “That is typical of developing countries.”

Every evening the delegation would be joined by their Chinese counterparts for dinner at local restaurants.

“Beijing is famous for two things – Peking duck and the opera,” Mr Crouch said. “We ate in the restaurant where President Bush and his wife ate, and afterwards went to the opera.”

In the mornings, the delegation watched as nearly the entire population of the city assembled in the parks for morning exercise – Tai Chi – or for ballroom dancing.

“Imagine seeing all your neighbors out ballroom dancing before work,” Jim Crouch said. There are other cultural differences, too. “At traffic lights in Beijing everyone turns off their [vehicle] engines. You don’t have much noise, but I’d be afraid that if I did that, my car wouldn’t start. I was very impressed with the orderliness of this city. There was no hint of ‘road rage’ – people were very orderly, polite, and reserved. There are more bicycles than cars, and all have to be registered just like a car.”

 Sightseeing on the third day included trips to the Imperial Palace, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall of China. Next to the Great Wall was a microwave communications tower, a typical juxtaposition of the old with the emerging modern technology that is seen throughout China, he said. “In the city I saw a man talking on his cell phone while riding his bicycle.”

Twice during the 10-day trip, scheduled meetings with local officials were abruptly cancelled without explanation. Both times the delegates refused to be daunted. Once they approached a policeman, identified themselves, and asked for a tour of the local command center. Another time they went to a fire services center and asked to see their dispatch system. Both times they were able to convince the Chinese, most of whom spoke at least some English, to accommodate them.

Personal Relationships

   “In China, it is all personal relationships,” Mr Crouch said. “To enter into an agreement with the Chinese, they have to know and trust you first. You have to become a friend first, a bonding, before they will do business with you.  That’s why many companies aren’t successful when they send their lawyers to talk to the Chinese about doing business in their country.”

In Shanghai, on the fifth day of the tour, the delegation met with China Mobil Communications to talk about location technology. Seven members of the People-to-People delegation were commercial technology representatives, like Mary Boyd, external affairs director at Lucent Technology.

“In the United States there is an approaching legal mandate to have cell phones provide the location of the telephone user within 100 meters,” Mr Crouch said. “In Shanghai, we found out they are just now considering this technology.”

The Chinese said that some of their cities have systems with GPS (global position satellite systems) and mapping, a technology that also is being increasingly used in the United States.

“We were in China to learn and share and the Chinese will be coming to the United States,” he said. “I’d be a little embarrassed showing my dispatch center to the Chinese after seeing their highly sophisticated ones, but our technology is as advanced, and sometimes ahead. Mainland China already has much of what are called third generation systems. The Newtown police department cut over to a third generation digital 911 system on December 7, while Hong Kong is still in the earlier phase of changing its equipment over to third generation.”

There also is no TDD/TT system for hearing and speech-impaired persons in China, he said. In Hong Kong fax machines are used, the cost of which may be subsidized by the government.

Dispatchers in China do not give pre-arrival instructions to help family members and bystanders attend to a victim, but they do collect information about what is happening at the scene. Because the Hong Kong center has such a large staff, dispatchers aren’t required to multi-task to the degree dispatchers do in Newtown, where they also answer switchboard calls in Edmond Town Hall, Mr Crouch pointed out.

To save money, because he financed his own trip with the help of some donations, Jim Crouch did not fly with the rest of the delegation, which flew out of San Francisco.  “I flew from Hartford to Detroit and then near the Arctic Circle to Beijing, which cut off a lot of hours.  On the way home, I couldn’t get the less expensive flight from Hong Kong so I went to Bangkok and got a cheaper flight home from there. That worked out well because I was able to see my wife’s family in Thailand, too.”

In August, 2000, a report of the trip will be presented by the delegates at the APCO International conference in Boston.

“Reviewing the information from the trip has made me sort of afraid of the future,” Jim Crouch said. “All the new equipment we are putting in probably will be obsolete in three years because the technology is advancing so quickly. It may not be long before you dial 911 and go onto the Internet!”

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