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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

A Tardy 911 System Can Cause Deadly Results

August 17, 2003

Recently I observed two people apparently "stripping" a vehicle on a side street in my neighborhood. As I drove by, one of the people brandished a knife at me. I called 911 on my cell phone to report the incident and was greeted by a message telling me to hold. After five minutes and 28 seconds my call was referred to an operator, who connected me with the LAPD. Five minutes of car-stripping may not be very significant; however, as an emergency physician, I can tell you that five minutes and 28 seconds clearly makes a difference to a victim of cardiac arrest.

Assuming 911 was activated immediately upon collapse, a fire engine arriving with a defibrillator in five minutes and 28 seconds has about a 50% chance of resuscitating the patient successfully, assuming the patient is in ventricular fibrillation. Each subsequent minute takes 10%, until the patient is unsalvageable. Henceforth, I will seriously consider recommending that my at-risk patients purchase and employ their own defibrillator, and then call a taxi.

Peter Benson MD

Department of Emergency

Medicine, L.A. County-

USC Medical Center

Los Angeles

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