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Emergency medical services (EMS) systems were developed in the early 1970s when federal resources were made available to provide for creation of the prehospital system infrastructure.1 A few years following the development of the EMS systems, NHTSA with the assistance from NASEMSD (National Association of State EMS Directors) developed a two-tiered statewide communication plan which was adapted to satisfy communication needs within EMS systems while also providing for compatibility and interoperability with other EMS components.2 Although the need for creating a communication infrastructure was recognized early and the system-level elements are well understood by the planning committee members, the various components of EMS communications are less understood by providers of emergency care systems. The common misconception related to emergency communication is that it is thought to involve exchange of information for medical control purposes when in fact, the actual process includes any exchange of the information between providers or between providers and the public or between emergency care providers and public safety agencies.


  • Describe the usual events involved in the dispatching of an EMS agency for an emergency call.

  • Describe modes of response related to dispatching.

  • Describe computer-assisted dispatching.

  • Describe the common types of radio communication and frequencies.

  • Describe common types of “radio speak,” including signals, codes, and plain speak.

  • Discuss why plain profession radio speak is considered superior to signals and codes.

  • Describe common terms used in radio communication to communicate the status of a unit.

  • Describe an emergency department base station and list types of ­individuals who may be answering the call.

  • Describe the types of “calls” that EMS providers make to the EMS base station.

  • Detail the essential components of base-station training.

  • Describe alternatives to radio for communications.

  • Discuss new technology, including the transmission of ECGs, real-time telemetry, and video streaming from the field.


Until fairly recently, there was no a comprehensive network of emergency communication centers, even in the United States. The evolution of the existence of “9-1-1” centers has led to a convenient and ­accessible way for the public to call for emergency assistance. There are a few ­components of the communication chain that illustrates how this system functions (Figure 15-1).

FIGURE 15-1.

Communication chain.


Emergency services are an important element of health care system and immediate, reliable, and easy access to this system is provided to the community through activation of 9-1-1 system. Common ways of accessing this system include the landline phones, mobile phones, ­vehicle-based access using automatic crash notification (ACN), and commercial voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) service, which refers to communication using the Internet rather than the public switched telephone network providers. ACN is a system that alerts EMS systems when a crash ...

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