Atlanta airport 911 investigation reveals logistical mess
Atlanta Airport is not in Atlanta. It’s actually in four different cities and two different counties. When people call 911, they may not receive CPR instructions.
ATLANTA – Anyone having a heart attack at the country’s busiest airport should be prepared to wait.
The average response time at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2020, from the 911 center receiving a medical call to the first unit to appear on the scene, was 11 minutes and 48 seconds.
Even if a 911 operator at the airport is familiar with CPR or has had previous medical training, they are prohibited from giving life-saving instructions to 911 callers.
âThey’re not trained to provide CPR instructions over the phone,â said Augustus Hudson, airport 911 manager.
Nearby 911 centers and major airports nationwide, like DFW in Dallas, have access to emergency medical dispatchers and provide pre-arrival instructions over the phone during medical calls.
The 911 center at the Atlanta airport does not.
Atlanta Airport is not in Atlanta
Airport calls are handled by multiple 911 centers in four cities and two counties, but all have a policy of forwarding those calls to the airport’s centralized command and control center, or C4.
Thomas Lawson of Flowery Branch suffered an apparent heart attack in the South Economy parking lot on November 20, 2020. The 62-year-old Marine got up from his car, grabbed his chest and told his wife, “Something’s wrong. do not go”.
These are the last words Ruth Lawson would ever hear from her husband.
âHe took three very strong gasps, spaced apart from each other, and never breathed again,â said Ruth Lawson. Thomas had previously survived heart surgery.
Ruth immediately called 911. She had no idea it would take another 22 minutes before an airport firefighter began CPR on her lifeless husband.
RELATED: He Died in an Atlanta Airport Parking Lot. 22 minutes after the 911 call, first responders began CPR
Even though South Economy’s parking lot is in College Park, Fulton County, its call was answered by a cell phone tower on the Clayton County side of the terminal.
Clayton County 911 trains its operators to be Emergency Medical Dispatchers, or EMDs. Even though the operator who answered the call that morning was not yet a certified EMR, there was one available right next to her who could have given her CPR instructions.
One track is in four 911 jurisdictions
Trail 8 Left / 26 Right is Hartsfield-Jackson’s most northerly trail, and its only trail in Fulton County. The remaining runways and the entire terminal are in Clayton County.
A jet landing 8 left / 26 right crosses four different 911 jurisdictions – Hapeville, Fulton County, Atlanta, and College Park – before coming to a stop.
While an aircraft reporting an emergency would contact air traffic control by radio, a passenger call from an onboard cell phone could be picked up by one of the seven 911 centers, as calls are routed through the location of the aircraft. the cell phone tower.
The airport does not have a protocol for handling medical calls, other than sending doctors. The other six 911 centers that respond to emergency medical calls from the airport have methods in place to give instructions before arrival.
This means that a half-dozen 911 centers that could offer medical advice over the phone regularly forward emergency calls to the airport center, which can only send fire trucks and ambulances.
RELATED: Lost on the Line: Why 911 is Broken
âPre-arrival instructions always help save lives,â conceded airport director of emergency medical services, Chief Christopher Collins. Chief Collins added, âIn this environment it creates a challenge.â
The airport once had paramedics or paramedics in the 911 center to provide pre-arrival instructions, according to Collins.
âIt’s something that we can revisit, but at the moment it’s not possible,â due to understaffing at Atlanta Fire & Rescue, Collins said.
Airport strategy: hope passengers know about CPR
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has invested in automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, which are spaced out in passenger lobbies.
The airport also relies on airline employees and passengers to know the CPR, since the airport’s 911 operators are not allowed to speak to someone through the CPR on the phone.
âWhat’s supposed to happen is if you activate 911, the dispatcher will tell you to take an AED,â Chief Collins said.
âI hope there is an employee in the area who has been trained in CPR – and in many cases the passengers are also trained in CPR – and they initiate that first shock or CPR.
Airport concealing death and CPR records
Chief Collins told 11Alive that 45 people have required CPR or suffered cardiac arrest at the airport since the start of 2019.
âSeven of these people have been brought back, released from the hospital,â Collins said.
Does that mean 38 people have died in just over two years? The airport and Collins wouldn’t say it, and a spreadsheet sent by the airport didn’t help answer that question.
11Alive’s investigative team, Reveal it, filed a Georgia Open Records Act application with the airport on April 12 to obtain records of the computer-assisted dispatch of cardiac arrests since 2019. First, the only response we received was the cardiac cases spreadsheet, and none of the dispatch records we requested. Later, the airport provided some of the CAD sheets, but not all.
Shortly after our first article on airport 911 was published, a teacher contacted us to tell us that he and his family had performed CPR on a woman who had stopped breathing outside the terminal on December 23. . He wanted to know if she had survived. We had not received any incident records or CAD sheets for that entire month.
In fact, most of the 2020 CPR incident CAD sheets were missing from the airport response, based on the case numbers listed in the fire department’s cardiac arrest spreadsheet.
When 11Alive asked the public records, the airport was not disclosed without explanation. Following our April 12 request, an archives clerk said this week that we have to pay hundreds of dollars more and wait until June 9 to see them.
11Alive is currently preparing a formal complaint to the Georgia Attorney General for violation of the Open Records Act in order to force the airport to share the records it initially kept with us and the public.
The Reveal is an investigative show revealing the inequality, injustice and ineptitude created by those in power throughout Georgia and across the country.
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