What is the best way to allocate resources to save lives?

19 May

Have you ever thought about how much it costs when you receive emergency help? I know I am extremely grateful to live in a place that when I dial 911, emergency services is on my doorstep in minutes. I am impressed by the community outreach programs they provide for children – regular interaction with kids in the schools, the Fire Department open house (I think I was more excited about climbing in the big engine than my kids were), even as simple as waving to my kids, it makes them more likely to call for help when they really need it. But I’d never thought about how expensive it is to have that amazing service literally at my fingertips.

I was referred to a fascinating article in the Fire Department Network News. http://bit.ly/bPr9Ai The article talks about how a county in Portland, Oregon has rethought how to supply the services to save costs and help the environment. Typically, every time you dial 911 they send the paramedics, fire department and police. But in that area, only 3% of calls are actually for fire. Almost 60% of the calls were for medical emergencies – heart attacks and serious injuries, but also elderly falling, pregnant women, kids with scrapes, car accidents. Rather than send the whole range of services, they’ve invested in nimble, 4-wheel-drive SUVs to send out the paramedics. Dispatchers have been trained to ask more questions to determine what vehicle is appropriate. End result? More cost-effective and eco-friendly delivery of emergency services. The article doesn’t say it, but I’d guess that the new policy would also mean that sending the right services to the right emergency would also mean people receive better service. If the fire truck is ready to go to a fire instead of helping an elderly person who has fallen at the other end of town at rush hour, isn’t the house more likely to be saved? And how about the person trapped in the burning house?

I understand other departments across the country are adopting similar policies. I applaud them for thinking outside of the box – providing the best, and possibly even better services, for lower cost. How many other areas could this thinking be applied to? I think drowning prevention and water safety is a great place to start. There are great programs out there, developed by people who are experts in their field and passionate about helping people, but the drowning statistics stay depressingly stable. What if we repackage how the message is delivered? What if we figure out a new way to reach children and parents? What if it’s even more cost-effective?

Saving more people for less money – that’s a brilliant idea.



2 Responses to “What is the best way to allocate resources to save lives?”

  1. Maureen Williams May 21, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    I like your approach. It’s the type of thing we’re trying to do with the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (www.ndpa.org), sharing ideas and successful programs to avoid the cost of trying to “reinvent the wheel” in different cities across the country. Even though numbers haven’t gone down significantly, the number of new pools, especially inflatable “big blue pools” has increased tremendously, so if numbers are fairly constant, we’re making a difference.

    • rebeccasavekids May 21, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

      Excellent point Maureen. A number of countries have excellent programs and are aggressively working to cut the rate of drowning, though as you point out it’s like trying to keep the surf from knocking down a sand castle – more pools + more people = more drownings. I think it’s also important to acknowledge prevalence of drowning in developing countries – much higher than developed countries with excellent programs in place, with the same devastating emotional and economic costs. A number of developed countries are using their expertise to spread or adapt programs to these countries towards making an impact on the global drowning numbers. Only working together can we make a global impact.

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