By C. Julia Nelson

Emergency response times in Sandy Springs are about to get better.

Since its inception in December 2005, the city of Sandy Springs has been under contract with Fulton County to receive Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to field 9-1-1 calls and dispatch services.

The city is currently applying to extend that contract to Dec. 2009, from Dec. 2008 to allow the city time to establish a more efficient regional service.

All emergency calls and ambulatory runs are controlled at the county level and local officials are moving toward a regional, intergovernmental Emergency Communications Center (ECC) and ambulance service that will better serve the citizens of Sandy Springs with faster response times.

Average response times for first responders to life threatening medical emergencies, which should ideally be four minutes, often take six to eight minutes – sometimes longer – under the Fulton County system, according to Ian Greenwald M.D. FACEP, Medical Director of Sandy Springs Fire Rescue and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Emory University.

To mitigate this problem the city has entered two intergovernmental contracts: one for the ECC and another for additional ambulances.

On March 18, the Sandy Springs City Council unanimously authorized the City Manager John McDonough to negotiate a contract with iXP Corporation, an EMS problem-solving firm, and to enter an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Johns Creek. The Johns Creek City Council voted 7-0 on April 14 in favor of the same.

These agreements will allow iXP to research the feasibility of and to design a regional ECC for both municipalities based in Sandy Springs. The cost of the contract with iXP, $528,500, will be split based on populations between Sandy Springs ($295,161) and Johns Creek ($233,339).

“This is a tremendous opportunity to streamline a critical service to the citizens of Sandy Springs and all of North Fulton,” Dr. Greenwald said. “Realistically I think we can shave several minutes off the response times for critical emergencies; that can mean the difference between life and death.”

McDonough said a regional ECC would “approve our ability to respond.”

“Our number one goal is to provide quality response services,” McDonough said. “(Currently) there’s not a lot of control because it’s controlled county-wide by Fulton County.”

“We’re trying to focus on improving the process,” McDonough said. “There are things from a technical standpoint that can be improved.”

The field study by iXP will review what must be accomplished in order for the two municipalities to take over the system; what the revenue flows would be and a timeline for completing the center. Additionally, iXP is charged with creating a business plan for implementation of a new ECC and determining the best-case scenario for the physical location.

McDonough said the ECC would most likely be connected physically to the Sandy Springs Police Department once it is relocated to a final location.

Johns Creek, which incorporated in December 2006 and has a population of about 70,000, also contracts through Fulton County for EMS but according to City Manager John Kachmar, would like to achieve better response times as well and sees the cost-sharing agreement as a fiscally responsible way to do that.

“There’s obviously a financial advantage instead of us doing our own 9-1-1 center,” Kachmar said. “Response time right now is just not acceptable. Our goal is to shorten the response time and have a better dispatch situation existing to make sure when it comes to emergency medical calls, citizens will see a better response time and a better outcome on the medical end.”

“We’ve identified this as a worthy investment. We can develop a state-of-the-art facility with robust dispatch capabilities,” McDonough said.

As of April 15, Sandy Springs also agreed its second intergovernmental contract for enhanced ambulance services with Rural/Metro Ambulance Services. Sandy Springs City Council voted 6-0 in favor of the agreement.

“When we get the 9-1-1 center we’ll be able to manage the downtime of the ambulances individually and enhance the response times above what we’re getting now,” Sandy Springs Councilwoman Karen Meizen-McEnerny said.

This new contract will place five ambulances in the city during peak 12-hour shifts and three ambulances during off-peak, 24-hour shifts. Currently Fulton County keeps three peak and two off-peak hour ambulances in Sandy Springs, but recently decided to transfer contractual administration and financial responsibility of the EMS services to the independent municipalities within North Fulton by July 1, 2008.

Other municipalities that may join on this effort include Johns Creek, Roswell, Alpharetta and Milton.

The annual cost to Sandy Springs for this contract is $492,764, assuming all other municipalities enter into the same contract.

Additionally, this establishes the North Fulton Emergency Medical Response Oversight Committee to provide efficient and economical coordination of emergency response issues across the region.

All of these services will support dispatch for both police and fire departments. The estimated time-frame for the new ambulatory services to be operational is about 90 days and for the ECC is by the end of 2009.