The goal in Seattle and King County is to get 15,000 “citizen responders” downloading the PulsePoint CPR app in the next few months and ready to go save a life when their smartphone alerts them to a cardiac arrest happening nearby.
King County is already known as one of the best places in the world to survive a cardiac arrest, but a new smartphone alert system going public in Seattle on Wednesday aims to make it even better.
The Medic One Foundation, in conjunction with the Seattle Fire Department, is introducing PulsePoint, a free phone app that turns ordinary bystanders into first responders who can beat even fire engines to emergency scenes.
The idea is to notify volunteers through phone messages when someone collapses nearby, alerting people willing to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the precious first minutes after cardiac arrest occurs.
How to sign up for PulsePoint
• Download the PulsePoint app on any IOS or Android device.
• Agree to the app terms.
• If you are CPR-trained and willing to help, select “Yes” to opt-in and receive notifications.
• Allow PulsePoint to access your location.
• Alerts will be sent for emergencies occurring within a quarter-mile.
Sources: Medic One Foundation and PulsePoint
“PulsePoint may get CPR started when no CPR was started at all,” explained Dr. Michael Sayre, medical director for Medic One and a University of Washington professor of emergency medicine.
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Sayre and his colleagues hope to get 15,000 “citizen responders” to download the app in the next several months, with a goal of boosting the region’s already high rate of bystander CPR, which has topped 55 percent
“I know the folks in Seattle are people who will be willing to jump in and help their neighbors,” Sayre said. “If we can go from 55 percent to 65 percent, that would be great.”
Survival rates in King County reached 62 percent in 2013 for bystander-witnessed cardiac arrests caused by ventricular fibrillation, or uncontrolled muscle contractions in the heart. In other cities, that same survival rate is in single digits; nationally, it’s about 30 percent. County leaders credit training, agency collaboration and research into survival outcomes for the high local rates.
Seattle is the latest city in Washington and across the nation to join the PulsePoint network, which was started in 2009 and now has 750,000 active users in 26 states and Canada. The app works by interacting with dispatch systems to scan for medical codes indicating cardiac arrest. When a code comes through, PulsePoint immediately alerts local volunteers who have downloaded the app.
Within months of the launch of PulsePoint in Spokane in 2014, Jeff Olson, a 60-year-old mechanic and volunteer firefighter, got an alert on his phone. He rushed to an address less than two blocks away and found 8-week-old Nolan Garrison blue and not breathing at a local dance studio.
“I just saw Jeff come bolting in and put him on the floor and start CPR,” recalled the baby’s mother, Karen Garrison, 35. “I was just like, thank God.”
Medics arrived a few minutes later — they’d been tied up on other calls that September morning, Olson said.
“I handed them the baby and the baby started crying,” he recalled. “We both went, ‘Ah, that’s a good sign.’ ”
Today, Nolan Garrison is an active 22-month-old who works hard to keep up with his big sisters, Ryan, 9, and Lily, 4, his mom says.
Every year in the U.S., about 326,000 people who are not in hospitals suffer sudden cardiac arrest, emergencies in which the electrical system of the heart malfunctions, causing a person to lose consciousness and stop breathing. It’s different from a heart attack, which happens when part of the heart’s blood supply is blocked and tissue begins to die.
Nine out of 10 of cardiac-arrest victims die, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. But when bystanders start CPR during the crucial three to five minutes after a person collapses, the odds of survival double or even triple, experts say.
PulsePoint was created by Richard Price, a former San Ramon, Calif., fire chief who was off duty when his own crews pulled up to the scene of a cardiac arrest occurring in a restaurant next door.
“I didn’t have a radio with me, but I had a phone,” he said. “I could have been alerted if I were nearby.”
Slowly, Price has been working with dispatch centers across the U.S. and Canada, persuading them to install the system that uses 911 calls to trigger alerts. He’s been talking with Medic One and Seattle Fire Department officials for more than two years about adding the system to local dispatch centers.
“It’s just a complex environment to work in,” Price said. “And it’s also an environment that wants you to prove your worth. They aren’t experimenters.”
The project got a big boost from the Employees Community Fund of Boeing, which provided $137,000 to launch PulsePoint in King and Snohomish counties, said Jan Sprake, executive director of the Medic One Foundation. Within the next six to eight months, Medic One will start PulsePoint in other dispatch centers in the two counties.
The program is already live through the Seattle Fire Department, thanks to a soft launch in which about 1,000 firefighters downloaded the app. About 60 percent of PulsePoint users are professionals, with the remaining 40 percent typically CPR-trained citizens who want to help, Price said.
It’s difficult to track so-called saves, like the rescue of baby Nolan Garrison. PulsePoint doesn’t monitor the identities or outcomes of the activations. Users are just asked, after the fact, to answer a survey about any response.
Since PulsePoint began, there have been nearly 10,000 activations with more than 24,000 citizen responders, spokeswoman Shannon Smith said.
Organizers expect PulsePoint to do well in Seattle, in part because of the already robust response system.
“PulsePoint will not work very well in systems that don’t work well,” Price said. “But in a system like Seattle, we think PulsePoint will make a bigger difference than most.”