Features February 2014 Issue

Comparing Medivac Services


Most evacuation services contract with regional providers for transportation. Ambulances in other regions can be rudimentary compared to this one in the Virgin Islands.

“We strongly recommend people who are going to sea get some kind of satellite phone,” said Dan Richards, founder and chief executive officer at Global Rescue, a U.S.-based company that provides medical advisory services, security, and emergency flights almost anywhere in the world.

According to Richards, maritime radio communications can pose a challenge when trying to diagnose and treat illnesses, and satellite uplinks afford the most reliable channel. He was reluctant to endorse GPS messenger devices such as the popular SPOT Personal Messenger (PS, September 2008), which can send out alerts to would-be rescuers. Although such devices—called SENDs (satellite emergency notification devices)—relay the sender’s latitude and longitude to those on the monitoring end, there’s no two-way communication as there is with a satellite phone such as the Iridium Extreme and SPOT Global Phone.

“Ninety-nine percent of the SPOT alerts we receive are false,” Richards said.

Because satellite phones and related transmission charges can be expensive, Richards said some travellers to remote regions are relying on newly developed smart-phone applications and devices such as the DeLorme inReach (PS, March 2013), which links a smart phone with a satellite via Bluetooth.

“But you are limited in the number of characters you can text, and if you need immediate medical assistance, texting doesn’t work very well,” he said. “With a satellite phone, we can put you on speaker (phone).”

Texting typically leaves the device user with no free hand to address an injury, help sail, or perform other duties.

Global Rescue, a major player in the remote rescue industry, has 24-7 operation centers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Thailand, and Pakistan. The company also maintains a partnership with Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., where doctors are on standby. Members who subscribe to Global Rescue are provided a phone number and email address to use in an emergency.

“When the first phone call comes in, you could be speaking with a paramedic. We get lots of calls per year that involve cuts or bleeding or people experiencing cardiac arrest,” Richards said. “It’s no different on a sailboat. We can walk you through it. Some things you can do on the phone with help from medical professionals. We provide advisory services more often than we evacuate people. Our medical team works with you. If you’re in the middle of the Atlantic or the South Pacific, thousands of miles from land, your options are limited. We can walk you through and mobilize resources to move in your direction.”

Those resources can include arranging helicopter or plane flights piloted by subcontractors worldwide; setting up ground transportation; staffing a field clinic with paramedics; and identifying the most appropriate hospital in the region.

“We’re the only company in the world that comes to your location. We did 1,200 ops this year,” Richards said, adding that over the past 10 years, his company has provided medical, security, and evacuation services at just about every major global disaster. Earthquakes in Haiti, a tsunami in Japan, the Russian invasion of Georgia province, rioting and political instability in Egypt, terror attacks in Mumbai—these all required Global Rescue evacuations.

“Every day, we get folks whose events don’t make the paper—animal attacks in Africa, lions and cheetahs, people who end up in an encounter,” Richards said. “We had a woman gored by a Cape buffalo in Zimbabwe. We got a call from the safari guide after the woman gave them her Global Rescue card or number. We deployed a helicopter for field rescue, to Victoria Falls, where we got her to a clinic. She was evaluated and stabilized, then a fixed-wing aircraft evacuated her to South Africa, where she stayed in a hospital for three weeks to stabilize before going back to Texas where she lived. We saved her life, although she never regained use of her lower extremities.”

A few years before that incident, a recreational sailor in the Bahamas got his leg trapped between the vessel and a pier. “His lower leg was broken. There was no clinic on the island. We instructed the people with him (via satellite and cell phones) on how to construct a splint. We actually got some pictures of the guy’s leg. And we got a fixed-wing aircraft to evacuate him to Miami.”


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