Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Israel has been a constant conflict zone since independence in 1948. Terrorist attacks alone have been responsible for thousands of fatalities and injuries over the years, in addition to the general emergency situations that occur annually. Despite the obvious risks of living in an often chaotic and dangerous area, the state has no centralized emergency call system. Magen David, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross, is available in most urban areas to send ambulances to accident victims, but that leaves regular gaps in services in more rural areas.
If a victim is able to secure an ambulance in an emergency situation, there still remains the problem of traffic. As of 2012, Israel was the 97th most populated nation, with a population density of more than 337 people per square kilometer, yet this figure is misleading: more than half of the land is unpopulated due to difficult desert conditions. According to the Israel government, as of 2011, there were 2.76 million motor vehicles in the state, or 346 vehicles per 1,000 people. While the number of traffic accidents is decreasing each year, Israel still faces regular issues of traffic congestion that make it nearly impossible for an emergency vehicle to navigate.
To compound the issues of constant conflict and constant traffic congestion, Israel also faces the issue of strong ethnic and religious divides. Communities are widely segregated along Arab, Jewish and Christian lines, along with divisions among secular and religious groups, gender roles and those with refugee or permanent residence status. In spite of the fact that many groups are affected when a terrorist attack or other incident takes place, the reaction is limited, as citizens tend to follow social norms that restrict how they act and respond to crisis.
Altogether these issues create an almost impossible challenge to overcome. In any given emergency situation, even if an ambulance is able to be dispatched to assist them, it almost always take too long to serve those most in need. Despite many groups being affected by the same situation, neighbors may be disinclined to assist one another, again a consequence of social norms.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Due to the constraints of winding, narrow streets, traffic shrinking budgets and a non-centralized emergency service system, Israeli ambulances regularly take a half hour or more to reach victims in urgent situations. Eli’s organization – United Hatzalah (“rescue” in Hebrew) – has approached this problem through the novel use of technology and an ever-expanding volunteer corps that pulls from all communities throughout Israel. His teams are now able to respond to any incident, regardless of location, in under three minutes.
Working as a volunteer EMT himself from the age of 17, Eli saw just how rare it was that an ambulance team was able to navigate the congested streets of Israel to reach an accident victim in time to save their lives. Simultaneously, he observed that local people, if trained appropriately, could fill the gap in care left between the first call to emergency services and the arrival of the support team – and save life, literally.
From this observation, Eli went on to create United Hatzalah. The organization trains volunteers and then equips them with, among other items, a GPS application for their mobile phone. When an emergency medical situation arises in their area, whether due to a bombing incident or a child choking, volunteers within a specific radius are notified and expected to move immediately to attend to the situation. They are then able to provide first response action within three minutes to stabilize the victim until professional help arrives to transport them to a hospital or more secure location.
While his organization was originally based among the Jewish community, the universal need for these services quickly became apparent. The program was promptly scaled to include Arabs and Christians in the volunteer corps. Today, United Hatzalah members respond to any and all accidents regardless of ethnic origin or religion. This unifying experience has resulted in over 2,000 United Hatzalah volunteers and 200,000 accident victims being treated annually. Over the past 22 years, the program has scaled to an international level, with services currently being offered in Brazil, Panama and India.