Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is EMS?
Emergency Medical Services, more commonly known as EMS, is a system that provides emergency medical care. It is activated by a call for help, after an incident of serious illness or injury. The focus of EMS is emergency medical care of the patient(s). EMS is most easily recognized when emergency vehicles or helicopters are seen responding to emergency incidents. But EMS is much more than a ride to the hospital. It is a system of coordinated response and emergency medical care, involving multiple people and agencies. A comprehensive EMS system is ready every day for every kind of emergency.
EMS includes all of the following components:
3. What is NHTSA's role in EMS?
NHTSA and its predecessor agency have supported comprehensive national Emergency Medical Services System development for more than 40 years. NHTSA has been a consistent Federal advocate and leader in promoting a systems approach to the development of emergency medical services. By collaborating with its national and Federal partners, e.g., the Department of Commerce (DOC), Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), et cetera, NHTSA has successfully implemented numerous programs to support and enhance EMS systems, including national standard curricula for EMS providers, the National EMS Agenda for the Future, the National Emergency Medical Services Information System (NEMSIS), and the deployment of Wireless Enhanced 9-1-1.
Consensus-building, collaboration and leveraging of limited resources into significant projects are the hallmarks of NHTSA's modus operandi in EMS system development. A comprehensive EMS system is ready every day for every kind of emergency. An efficient EMS system is integral to reducing traffic morbidity and mortality, essential to traffic mobility, and key to ensuring prompt emergency response to any type of incident. The Nation's best preparation for any incident is a comprehensive EMS system, ready every day for every emergency.
4. Where did the Star of Life come from?
Recognizing the need for a symbol that would represent this critical public service and be easily recognized by all, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) created the "Star of Life" and holds priority rights to the use of this registered certification mark. Adapted from the personal Medical Identification Symbol of the American Medical Association, each bar on the Star of Life represents one of six EMS functions. The functions include:
The Star of Life has become synonymous with emergency medical care around the globe. This symbol can be seen as a means of identification on ambulances, emergency medical equipment, patches or apparel worn by EMS providers and materials such as books, pamphlets, manuals, reports, and publications that either have a direct application to EMS or were generated by an EMS organization. It can also be found on road maps and highway signs indicating the location of or access to qualified emergency medical care.
5. Who delivers prehospital emergency medical care?
The delivery of emergency medical care is a local function and is organized in a variety of ways. Local communities design their own EMS systems, using local resources to fill local needs. The organizational structure of EMS, as well as who provides and finances the services, varies significantly from community to community. Prehospital services can be based in a fire department, a hospital, an independent government agency (i.e., public health agency), non-profit corporation (e.g., Rescue Squad) or provided by commercial for-profit companies.
6. Where can I find out more about the Office of EMS?
The Office of EMS is housed within the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. To find out more about the Office of EMS and its programs and products, see additional articles under the "About NHTSA EMS" section of www.EMS.gov.
7. Where can I find out more about State EMS systems?
Each State and territory has a lead EMS agency. These agencies are often within the State health department, but in some States they are part of the public safety department or are an independent State agency. State EMS agencies are responsible for the overall planning, coordination, and regulation of the State EMS system as well as licensing or certifying EMS providers and ambulances.
The National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) is a non-profit organization of State EMS Directors, State EMS Medical Directors, Training Coordinators, Data Managers and Trauma Coordinators. For more information about the NASEMSO and as well as State EMS agencies, go to www.nasemso.org and their list of State EMS agencies can be found at: http://www.nasemso.org/About/StateEMSAgencies/StateEMSAgencyListing.asp.
The following functions are typically, but not universally, performed by State EMS agencies:
The National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) is a non-profit organization of State EMS Directors, State EMS Medical Directors, Training Coordinators, Data Managers and Trauma Coordinators. For more information about the NASEMSO and as well as State EMS agencies, go to www.nasemso.org .
8. How has the role of EMS changed in the past 40 years?
Since its inception, the purpose of EMS has been to render emergency medical care to sick or injured people in emergency situations. But during the past 40 years, its role has continuously evolved. Modern EMS developed out of simultaneous advances in the science of cardiac resuscitation as well as the recognition of accidental death and disability as a neglected epidemic. It was created to meet the immediate needs of the acutely ill and injured; to provide emergency care and transportation.
Over the past four decades, EMS has expanded to provide emergency medical care for all types of emergencies. And it includes the care of medical emergencies as well as all types of injuries, accidental and intentional. In many areas of the country, it functions as a heath care "safety net", especially for the un- or under-insured. Public health authorities have also turned to EMS to assist in prevention activities, to promote health and wellness programs, and to assist in the identification of new or significant outbreaks of illness or injury.
The natural and man-made disasters of recent years have further changed the role of EMS and the need to respond to a growing list of hazards as well as the capability to care for large numbers of patients. Advances in medicine and technology continue to generate changes in operations and the protocols for emergency care provided by EMS. In today's world, a comprehensive EMS system is one that is ready for every emergency every day. But first and foremost, caring for the patient(s) remains the priority for EMS.
9. What is NEMSIS?
NEMSIS stands for the National Emergency Medical Services Information System. NEMSIS is a national effort to standardize and compile data collected by EMS agencies. NEMSIS data sets exist at the local, State, and national levels. The National EMS Database is the national repository that will be used to store EMS data from every State in the nation.
Since the 1970s, the need for EMS information systems and databases has been well established, and many statewide data systems have been created. However, these EMS systems vary in their ability to collect patient and systems data and allow collective analysis at a local, State, and national level. For this reason, the NEMSIS project was developed to help States collect standardized data elements and submit data to a national EMS database.
The NEMSIS project has three primary goals & objectives:
NEMSIS TAC, or the National EMS Information System Technical Assistance Center, is the resource center for the NEMSIS project. Its job is to:
NEMSIS data will help describe EMS and prehospital care in a way never before imagined, improving patient care and medical direction. EMSA agencies across the Nation will be able to share data elements nationally, with an objective measure of their status and progress. For more information on NEMSIS, visit www.nemsis.org.
10. What is FICEMS?
The establishment of the Federal Interagency Committee on Emergency Medical Services (FICEMS) was statutorily created by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).
The functions of FICEMS, as stated in SAFETEA-LU, are:
(A) To ensure coordination among the Federal agencies involved with State, local, tribal, or regional emergency medical services and 9-1-1 systems.
(B) To identify State, local, tribal, or regional emergency medical services and 9-1-1 needs.
(C) To recommend new or expanded programs, including grant programs, for improving State, local, tribal, or regional emergency medical services and implementing improved emergency medical services communications technologies, including wireless 9-1-1.
(D) To identify ways to streamline the process through which Federal agencies support State, local, tribal or regional emergency medical services.
(E) To assist State, local, tribal or regional emergency medical services in setting priorities based on identified needs.
(F) To advise, consult, and make recommendations on matters relating to the implementation of the coordinated State emergency medical services programs.
The law requires FICEMS membership to include the following officials, or their designees:
(A) The Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
(B) The Director, Preparedness Division, Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response of the Department of Homeland Security.
(C) The Administrator, Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Health and Human Services.
(D) The Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services.
(E) The Administrator, United States Fire Administration, Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response of the Department of Homeland Security.
(F) The Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services.
(G) The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
(H) The Director, Indian Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services.
(I) The Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Federal Communications Commission.
(J) A representative of any other Federal agency appointed by the Secretary of Transportation or the Secretary of Homeland Security through the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, as having a significant role in relation to the purposes of the Interagency Committee.
(K) A State emergency medical services director appointed by the Secretary.
The law requires NHTSA, in cooperation with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to provide administrative support to FICEMS, including scheduling meetings, setting agendas, keeping minutes and records, and producing reports.
11. What is NHTSA's role in 9-1-1 services?
NHTSA has long been involved in advocating for a universal number for the public to call to access emergency help. The OEMS supports and promotes the provision of 9-1-1 services with a program that produces products to help local and State 911 Managers an Authorities by carrying out three basic functions:
For more information on NHTSA’s 9-1-1 activities, visit www.911.gov.