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A very bad idea

By Fjodor on Mar. 22, 2011.

This might be one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard of.

Basically, it’s a system to measure the stress level in the voice of whomever happens to call for help – in the present case case for military emergency response but with the possibility to expand into civil emergency services, to determine which calls should get priority if there is a back-log.

Now, for a military purpose, I can almost be persuaded to believe that military training for stressful situations might make this a useful metric, but for civil use, not so much.

I have had the distinct displeasure of calling ambulances for others a number of times, and as I have been taught that speaking calmly and responding to questions about details in a coherent manner, I usually make it a point to do just that – stay calm, leveled and objective, not letting the specific “badness” of the situation interfere with my attempt to convey the precise scope and nature of the emergency.

Now, the article says that the system has a very low error margin when tested on previous calls, where the prioritization of the operator in question is known. I take that to mean that it would make the same choice that the operator did. What is not mentioned is if said operator relied more on the apparent stress level of the caller or on the specifics of what was reported to make the choice of priority for the dispatch. I could, given data, easily be persuaded that the operator used the same metric as the system, and that said metric might not be the best.

A case would be an incident that took place when my oldest younger sister worked as a tourist guide in Turkey and I was there to visit. During the pick-up for departure, and elderly lady had a heart attack, and some other people in the bus stated that they were proficient in CPR, so we agreed that my sister would keep the other guests calm and alert her colleagues to the fact that the bus might be delayed, so they would have a chance to inform the airport of a number of delayed passengers, they would administer CPR, and I would call for an ambulance.

In the case of a heart attack, immediate first aid, in the form of CPR is paramount, so I had to work out this division of tasks quickly and then go on with my own. I found a local who could give me a number for the nearest hospital, called them, explained the situation and had the local describe where we were.

During all this, I made a conscious effort to keep as calm as possible, in order to understand and be understood by the local and the hospital. Furthermore, I had delegated the actual act of CPR to others who said that they were proficient in it (sadly, it turned out that they were not), so to my own mind, I think I came off as rather collected and coherent to both the local and the hospital – hardly with any significant stress level apparent, since I didn’t know the woman, but was aware that it was serious, so I should stay calm.

If a system as the one mentioned had been in place, and if the priority of the call would be set by the stress level, I rather doubt that it would have been given a sufficient level of priority, whereas a hysterical parent to a child with a minor cut on a finger or some such would probably score much higher.

In summary, I might be able to understand an argument that this could be useful in military situations, where one would expect every caller to have at least some experience and/or training in/for emergency situations, but for the civil populace, this idea is about as bad as they come…

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