Emergency Telecommunications Centers Are a Vital Part of a Lifesaving System

Each year an estimated 350,000 sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) events occur in the United States in an out-of-hospital environment. In 2020, D.C. Fire and EMS reported 964 SCAs in D.C. with only a 4.7% survival rate. An SCA occurs when the heart’s electrical system abruptly malfunctions, and the heart suddenly stops beating normally. It can happen to anyone, at any time. Almost all of these events result in a call for help to 911. Without quick intervention in the form of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation, death from SCA is certain.

Telecommunicators, such as 911 call takers, are true first responders and a critical link in the cardiac arrest chain of survival. A properly trained telecommunicator can make the difference between life and death because when CPR begins prior to the arrival of emergency medical services (EMS) personnel, the person in cardiac arrest’s chance of survival increases by 2 to 3 times. Emergency response times can vary depending on where one lives, raising important equity considerations. For example, in under-resourced Wards 7 and 8 in D.C., response times are typically higher than in other areas of the District, increasing the need for strong T-CPR policies to save more lives of those most at risk for heart-related emergencies.

T-CPR policies focus on the provision of CPR instruction for cardiac arrests as the standard of care. The policies require ongoing training for 911 call takers and continuous quality improvement and testing to ensure that they can effectively teach a caller how to perform CPR over the phone. This is essential to expanding the chain of survival and increasing the likelihood of survival until EMS arrives.

The American Heart Association (AHA) supports the implementation of a quality program in T-CPR because achieving adherence to these programs could save countless lives.

Owen Billman, Greater Washington Region Board of Directors Chair and President of Blake Real Estate.

“Telecommunicators are key to ensuring the highest standards of care are in place for the safety and well-being of all D.C. residents in every ward,” said Owen Billman, president of Blake Real Estate and chair of the board of directors for the American Heart Association, Greater Washington Region.

In Washington, D.C., in 2020, D.C. Fire and EMS reported only 94 instances of bystander CPR, where a bystander initiates compressions and begins life-saving CPR until Fire and EMS arrive. A quality T-CPR program would help those bystanders quickly learn what to do over the phone by trained 911 call takers.

Implementing a quality program in T-CPR and achieving adherence to the performance standards outlined in the policy can save countless lives. This is a critical step in having a strong Chain of Survival that can improve chances of survival and recovery for victims of cardiac arrest.

Learn more about the issue of T-CPR at cpr.heart.org.