Today, this requires using a fleetwide vehicle GPS tracking system, which can expedite emergency dispatching and response by providing the real-time location of every vehicle in the fleet on a 24/7 basis. Such technology can also improve vehicle dispatch routing and management when historical records can be consulted to determine which routes are the most efficient.
In addition, implementing real-time GPS tracking can increase driver accountability making them less inclined to take unauthorized excursions, such as for personal errands, when not on a call. This can help to minimize unnecessary vehicle mileage, fuel use, and wear and tear. On the plus side, GPS tracking can also be used to recognize and reward consistently rapid employee response.
In the case of SouthStar EMS, an Augusta, GA based professional private medical transport service providing critical emergency and non-emergency ambulance services in Georgia, South Carolina and beyond, expediting response was the driving force to implement a quality fleetwide GPS vehicle tracking system.
“When we dispatch our crews, we want to ensure they end up at the correct location, so real-time GPS system accuracy and coverage was critical,” says Joey Knowles, Business Development Officer at SouthStar EMS. “Because we work with the VA medical system which can require transport to distant out-of-state locations, we also wanted national – not just regional – GPS tracking.”
According to Knowles, when he selected a GPS tracking system provider for his fleet of approximately 50 vehicles, he looked at a wide variety of different systems.
“We wanted the capability of tracking vehicles in essentially real time,” says Knowles. “So, we chose one with this capability.”
Compared with typical GPS tracking devices that may only update every few minutes, he chose a device that provides real-time location updates every 10 seconds, as well as location, speed and idle time alerts if something is amiss. This data is transmitted via satellite and cellular networks to a smartphone or PC on a 24/7 basis. The system has access to nationwide speed limits in its database.
According to Knowles, in unfamiliar surroundings sometimes drivers get lost and need help to quickly get routed to the correct destination. He found the new system quite proficient at helping with this task.
He says that via a PC website link or smartphone app provided by the provider, he can display the real-time location of his entire vehicle fleet on a map, and zoom in on any specific truck. At a glance, he can see if a truck is moving (displays green) or stopped (displays red). If he touches a truck icon, the app will display where the truck has been, where it stopped, and how long it has idled. All this helps with on-the-fly coordination.
“With basically real-time GPS tracking, our dispatchers can immediately see where any ambulance crew is on a map and provide turn-by-turn guidance to get them to the scene of the emergency without delay,” says Knowles. He adds that this is particularly helpful in areas with poor radio coverage, since the GPS provides constantly updated location information, so accurate driving assistance can be provided with a minimal need for back and forth conversation.
By the same token, if an ambulance ever breaks down, the system enables the dispatcher to quickly send a mechanic or another ambulance crew to quickly transfer the patient and transport him/her to the nearest medical facility.
In instances of emergency disaster relief or evacuation, Knowles says that it is also a big plus to have the whereabouts of the entire fleet visually available via a GPS tracking system so the closest vehicle can always rapidly respond.
“We do a lot of evacuations because we are far enough inland so many nursing home/hospital patients on the coast end up being transported here,” says Knowles. “Being able to track our vehicles for those kinds of situations is important as well.”
Because getting to the emergency scene faster is critical to save lives, Knowles says that he compares the historical records of how units respond to the same location/facility to note which is more efficient.
“We are always auditing response times to improve them with better routing,” says Knowles. “Our system makes it is easy for us to pull reports based on location and time to see which crews are traveling fixed trips faster than others. By comparing these, we can figure out which routes are better and try to implement these with our fleet, when possible.”
He says this sort of best practice benchmarking is particularly useful when SouthStar EMS is responsible for more routine non-emergency patient transportation to certain locations, which may occur over weeks or months.
According to Knowles, such GPS vehicle tracking systems and reporting also helps to increase driver accountability if any crews tend to wander off to unauthorized locations, which could otherwise slow both emergency and non-emergency pick up/drop off.
“When we do audits, one thing we focus on is ensuring that our crew members accurately tell us what time they arrive or leave the scene,” says Knowles. “Then we compare the times they tell us with the GPS arrival/departure times to ensure that everyone is being honest.”
“On the plus side, when an emergency crew puts in a lot of work or completes a really hard out-of-town work shift, the GPS tracking system can flag that too,” adds Knowles. “So, we can recognize the extra effort as well.”
According to Knowles, their system has led to more efficient routing and more accountable drivers, which has resulted in significant savings in gas and time.
“We have found savings in drivers taking more efficient routes,” says Knowles. “This enables drivers to take more emergency calls or do more non-emergency transports. We were also able to reduce vehicle idle time once we realized that drivers were running the engine while sitting and waiting too much, which saved us a lot of fuel.”
Finally, from a legal and insurance standpoint, Knowles has found that the GPS vehicle tracking can be helpful as well.
“When necessary, we can pull data to show the actual time our ambulance crew got to a facility,” says Knowles. “We can show we made a best effort when our drivers were properly in route but stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. If there is ever an accident, our auto insurance company likes having the GPS vehicle tracking information because it helps to justify that we did the right thing.”
Whether for medical, fire/rescue, or police fleets, today’s advanced GPS tracking systems can help speed the emergency response to improve safety and efficiency, while helping to protect against legal and financial risks as well.