Frequently Asked Questions About the Increase in EMSA's Response Times

[July 24, 2013]

Why are response times increasing?
Based on best practices of evidence-based medicine, and at the recommendation of the Medical Control Board and the ambulance provider selection committee, EMSA is increasing emergency response times for 911 calls. Scientific data has proven a quicker response time does not guarantee survival, but rather CPR administered at the time of the 911 call provides the life-sustaining care in those early minutes of an emergency. The reason for the increased response time is to increase the safety for medics and the general public when medics respond to 911 calls.

How long will it take EMSA to respond to my emergency?
In Oklahoma City, Edmond and Tulsa, the response for Priority 1 calls will be 10 minutes and 59 seconds and 24 minutes and 59 seconds for Priority 2 calls. Priority 1 calls are critical situations, such as heart attacks, strokes, drownings and traumatic motor vehicle collisions.

Priority 2 calls are nonlife-threatening situations such as, falls, broken limbs and minor injury motor vehicle collisions.
For the suburbs of the metro areas, Priority 1 calls will be 11 minutes and 59 seconds and 24 minutes and 59 seconds for Priority 2 calls.
The Tulsa-area suburbs include Bixby, Jenks and Sand Springs. The Oklahoma City-area suburbs include Bethany, Lake Aluma, Mustang, Nichols Hills, Piedmont, The Village, Warr Acres and Yukon.

When will this change take effect?
The response time requirements will start November 1, 2013.

If minutes matter in an emergency, why is EMSA increasing response time?
While emergencies require immediate response, the historical belief was the faster an ambulance arrives, the better the patient’s outcome. However, evidence-based medicine has proved that ambulance arrival time is not as important as the implementation of basic life support, such as CPR. According to national trends and medical literature, the increased response time shows no difference for clinical outcomes. This is true for both trauma patients, as well as medical patients. This even applies to serious life-threatening emergencies, such as cardiac arrest.
Our emergency medical system is a multi-layered system that includes lifesaving care the minute a 911 call is placed. From the moment a caller connects with a dispatcher, that person is receiving step-by-step instructions to provide interim care until medical help arrives. First responders (fire fighters) are required to respond first and provide basic emergency care until an ambulance arrives. 

Will ambulances still run hot to emergencies?
Ambulances will continue to run hot (drive with lights and sirens on) for Priority 1 calls. However, for Priority 2 calls the ambulances will run cold (no lights and sirens on). Most accidents involving ambulances occur when ambulances run hot. To increase traffic safety for medics and the general public, EMSA will only run hot on life-threatening emergencies.

Does this mean I need to pull over every time I see an ambulance?
No, a benefit of the increased response times is road safety for the general public. When ambulances have their sirens and lights flashing, you are required to pull off to the side of the road and stop so the ambulance can get by. This often causes traffic confusion and can lead to accidents. By increasing the response times and limiting the use of lights and sirens to the highest priority calls, drivers will not have to pull over for ambulances as often and are generally safer on the roads.

How often do accidents occur involving ambulances?
While ambulances are still the safest form of emergency transportation, when accidents occur they are usually severe. A typical ambulance weighs more than 10,000 pounds therefore situations involving ambulances are usually serious and can be fatal – for the patient, medics and other drivers.
A study commissioned in the Dallas/Fort Worth area showed that 74 percent of all crashes there involving ambulances happened when those vehicles had their lights flashing and their sirens sounding. National statistics reach as high as 85 percent of ambulance accidents occurred while driving with lights and sirens on.

What was the research behind this decision?
EMSA commissioned an independent, third-party study of best practices for emergency medical service providers from across the country. The OU School of Community Medicine authored the study and recommended EMSA increase allotted response times. The Medical Control Board, which oversees all aspects of patient care provided by first responders, has reviewed the recommendation and has also endorsed the change. Clinical outcomes or mortality rates, in relationship to response times, are most affected by patient care starting within the first five minutes. In light of the latest scientific research, ambulance services across the country are increasing response times. This is why we have a robust system of 911 dispatchers who give pre-arrival instructions and first responders who are required to respond within the first five minutes.

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