More evidence emerges: Sprawl lengthens emergency response times

Suburban sprawl is hurting Emergency Medical Service response times, according to a new study released by University of Virginia researchers and published in the November 2009 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“Urban Sprawl and Delayed Ambulance Arrival in the U.S,” by Drs. Matthew Trowbridge and Robert E. O’Connor, and Matthew Gurka, PhD, strengthens the already considerable research case to be made for linking better public safety to connected networks of sustainable streets – points underlying two major CNU initiatives: The Emergency Response & Street Design Initiative, and Transportation Networks.

The authors used vehicle crash data from the Fatal Analysis Reporting System, between 2000 and 2002. They began by looking at 113,879 crashes from the FARS data. After excluding utterly rural and overwhelmingly urban counties, their final sample size was 43,424 crashes in 797 counties in 46 states. The data bolster what we already know:

Urban sprawl is significantly associated with increased EMS response time and a higher probability of delayed ambulance arrival following motor-vehicle crashes in the U.S. The results of this study suggest that promotion of community design and development that follows smart-growth principles and regulates urban sprawl may improve EMS performance and reliability.

The authors then tried to predict the probability of a delayed EMS response in counties with average, sprawling, and smart growth development patterns.

That result?

The probability of a delayed ambulance arrival is nearly twice as high in counties with prominent features of sprawl, such as low-density construction, limited street connectivity, and segregation of residential development from civic and commercial districts compared with counties exhibiting smart-growth characteristics.

The next step, the authors suggest, is to study sprawl’s effects on emergency response times for cardiac and respiratory arrests – when a 4- to 6-minute response time is absolutely critical to the patient’s outcome.

Read the article here, and watch an interview with the authors here.


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