High-tech hits Magen David Adom
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High-tech hits Magen David Adom

From Medicycles to command centers, product innovations keep MDA ahead of the curve in emergency response

MDA's innovative three-wheeled Medicycles allow first-responders to weave through traffic faster than any other emergency-response vehicle (Courtesy)
MDA's innovative three-wheeled Medicycles allow first-responders to weave through traffic faster than any other emergency-response vehicle (Courtesy)

When GPS tracking became standard on all Magen David Adom (MDA) emergency-response vehicles in 2001, Ido Rosenblat thought he had hit the jackpot.

The technological leap forward revolutionized the way Rosenblat, director of MDA’s Command and Control Centers, could save lives in Israel. For the first time, he could connect a victim to the nearest ambulance or paramedic with pinpoint accuracy. Countless lives have been saved as a result.

Little did Rosenblat know, GPS was just the beginning.

As it did with the GPS system, the division creates and develops specifications for its needed technologies, such as the new C4I system (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Information), which lies at the heart of MDA’s National Command and Control Center (NCCC). The comprehensive system streamlines various databases into two easy-to-navigate screens that dispatchers use when a “101” emergency call comes in to any of MDA’s 11 regional call centers.

“The advantage of innovating in-house is that we know how to address the needs of the organization. And, as the people working in the field, we know how to develop and operate the best possible systems. It promotes efficiency,” Rosenblat says.

Most recently, the C4I system, combined with human intuition and resolve, was more than efficient. It saved a 3-months-old’s life.

The Ayalon Regional Dispatch Center received an emergency call about an infant who was choking and unresponsive, her life slipping away.

“As the dispatch operator was getting the details from the parents, he instructed them on how to perform CPR on the baby. At the same time, the dispatcher accessed the C4I system to locate the closest first-responder,” Rosenblat says. Unlike many 911 operators in America, all MDA dispatchers are medics or paramedics and have previously worked in the field.

“By using the C4I system, the dispatcher ID’d a first-responder on the same street. It took four minutes from the time the call first came in to the moment the paramedic was on the scene,” Rosenblat continues. “I have no doubt that the GPS and C4I systems helped us save that baby’s life.”

In today’s era of Google maps and smartphone traffic applications, the concept of a GPS-less world seems archaic. But in many countries, including some first-world nations in Europe, such technology is not farmed out to all emergency-response vehicles as it is by MDA in Israel. As a result, when MDA representatives travel abroad or host foreign delegations, they fulfill another part of their mission: sharing and applying MDA tech know-how and expertise to communities in need and populations distressed after natural disasters.

“We get visitors from all over the world who come to learn from Magen David Adom’s abilities and experiences dealing with terror attacks and all kinds of natural disasters,” says MDA Project Manager Asi Dvilansky. “And we send our teams all over the world to learn from other nations’ disasters, such as Haiti, Japan, and Turkey.”

Many of MDA’s experiences dealing with search-and-rescue missions, both domestic and abroad, have informed the products it innovates today. The MDA Tomcar, a light all-terrain vehicle first built by a company in Israel, is very mobile and can traverse ruined and unstable landscapes created by earthquakes or floods.

MDA’s unique Medicycles, meanwhile, are turning heads in Israel’s cities. The Piaggio-made scooters, with their high-performance maneuverability, have revolutionized the way first-responders reach emergencies in congested areas such as cities or jammed highways. Police departments across Israel are now following suit and using the motorbikes.

“The Medicycles are special because they have two wheels in the front and one in the back,” says MDA Medicycle driver Azriel Gross. “They have state-of-the-art cardio pumps, defibrillators, and basic life support equipment. Plus, they’re really safe to drive.”

Other innovations help keep Israel’s national blood supply safe and secure. The MAK Project is a comprehensive, computerized platform for managing blood-bank operations. And MDA ensures the quality of the blood supply by subjecting each donation to nucleic acid testing, a process that greatly reduces the risk of transfusion-transmitted viruses.

MDA software designers recently developed a new app that paramedics and field technicians can use to communicate faster with command centers. MDA even has temporary housing and infrastructure to help safeguard its operations. In case one of its stations is ever damaged or destroyed, MDA created rapid deployment Base-X Shelters that allow paramedics to continue their livesaving work.

While innovations like these help position MDA as one of the world’s most advanced emergency-response organizations, the heart and soul of its technology lies in the NCCC. If scooters, defibrillators, and digital databases are MDA’s fingers and hands, then the NCCC is its brain.

An MDA temporary field station during the Carmel Forest Fire in 2011 (Courtesy)
An MDA temporary field station during the Carmel Forest Fire in 2011 (Courtesy)

“We need to think about the ‘Three R’s:’ sending the right vehicle to the right patient at the right time,” Rosenblat says. “In order to do this, we need a lot of systems and we need to combine them correctly. That’s what the Command and Control system allows us to do.”

Yael Mandel, a senior MDA paramedic who worked extensively as a dispatcher, says the NCCC’s seamless integration of MDA, Fire Services, Army, and hospital databases could only be attributed to technology. The mechanism was unlike anything she had ever experienced.

“The National Operation Center has the power that no other emergency-response service in the world has, that I’ve seen. Other countries are trying to copy the idea,” she says. “The system MDA uses is phenomenal because every week or month they’re adding features and upgrading existing ones.”

“The world changes so you need to change with it,” Mandel adds. “As the MDA Dispatch Centers get better and better, the reaction time gets smaller and smaller.”

The technology angle is not lost on MDA’s colleagues in the United States. While many American donors are familiar with MDA’s 13,000 volunteer EMTs and paramedics and the 900 ambulances they travel in, its high-tech advancements sometimes get overlooked. Now, American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA), MDA’s fundraising arm in the U.S., is looking to raise funds from new donors active in the tech and innovation fields.

“We are making a concerted effort to let our donors know that cutting-edge technology is critical to MDA’s work,” says AMFDA Chief Executive Officer Arnold Gerson. “MDA pioneers many emergency-response tactics and technologies, and we’re looking for donors who have that same entrepreneurial spirit.”

All of this is music to Rosenblat’s ears.

“The best technology at MDA is the wonderful people who do an incredible job, and a little technology and advanced systems can be useful,” Rosenblat says with a wink.   “Still, MDA is hugely committed to developing technology that allows us to close the gap between injury and a paramedic’s arrival. If we don’t use technology to save lives, then for what else?”