So how do ambulance drivers know where to go?

Ambulance drivers are directed by emergency dispatchers who use a Computer Aided Dispatch or CAD device to direct emergency crews. Most ambulance crews also familiarize themselves with their areas of operation for better response times. Global Positioning Systems or GPS is becoming increasingly common as well.

The most common way an ambulance driver knows where to go is by a piece of technology called Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD). It maps out emergency routes for dispatchers, who then direct ambulance drivers and other EMS to where they need to go. Ambulance drivers also familiarize themselves with their response areas, though a GPS (Global Positioning System) has become increasingly common for emergency vehicles, such as ambulances, as well.

This has helped emergency responders with response times, just one aspect of their jobs that has been made easier by technology. These advancements in technology related to emergency services have made it easier for ambulance drivers, paramedics, EMTs, and other first responders to perform their jobs and save lives. Devices such as GPS, CAD, smartphone capabilities, Intellistreets lamps, and a whole plethora of other necessary communications apps and devices make these jobs more streamlined.

It seems technology is continually evolving and now affects almost every job in the world, from driving an ambulance to mapping wildfires. With the advent of the first smartphone in 2007, there was a shift in how people communicate. We now use these devices, and other technological advancements, to not only assist ambulance drivers but also help other emergency responders streamline their jobs. The following technologies help save lives, centralize communication with first responders, guide ambulances and other EMS workers to their destinations, and better understand situational awareness among all emergency personnel from dispatchers to paramedics. Read on to discover the latest in emergency management technology.


So how do ambulance drivers know where to go?

If we were to look at a graph showing technology advancements in the past fifteen years, the trend line would increase dramatically. If you asked most people, they would say they couldn’t live without their smartphones or computers. For better or worse, we have infused technology into almost every aspect of our lives. This is no different when it comes to emergency response technology. The average person wouldn’t think twice about these devices, applications, and tools, but they are worth noting. Any of this new tech could save your life one day!

Ambulance Technology

These important vehicles mean the difference between life and death more times than not. Due to the advancement of technology, there are multiple time-saving and communication devices on ambulances today. Not only does this equipment aid an ambulance driver in knowing where to go, but it allows two-way communication between a paramedic or EMT and a doctor in real-time. Here are multiple pieces of technology that are being utilized on ambulances today to save lives.

Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD)

Though this could be considered an interagency tool, a CAD system is essential to ambulances and their drivers to help the public. What is CAD? Well, a CAD is a server that is capable of communicating with multiple devices and personnel. It is the most frequent device in telling emergency responders, such as ambulance drivers, where to go.

This server is usually located at the central dispatch hub of a community. Some dispatch hubs are interagency, while others are not. A CAD server manages GIS (Geographical Information System) data to aid in mapping routes, communicating with cell phones and fax machines, and tracking where all available resources are located.

Global Positioning System (GPS)

While this might seem like a no-brainer, not all ambulances are equipped with GPS tracking. Some drivers might use their smartphones to map out routes, especially in rural areas where equipment is older, and the latest technology isn’t available.

So how do ambulance drivers know where to go?

The most significant advancement in emergency vehicles across the country is what most people know as a Lo-Jack system (though other companies provide similar services under different names these days). The central dispatch hub can track all vehicles under its purview with GPS. This also allows for quicker response times.


Tele-Ambulances aren’t your standard ambulance. Thanks to current technology, EMTs and paramedics can have safe and secure communication with doctors in real-time over systems similar to Tele-health.

Ambulances are being equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities and iPads, which allow emergency personnel to discuss patients being transported and allows the ER staff to better prepare for an incoming patient.

LUCAS™ Devices

This technology is brand-new and mostly being used in the larger cities. What these devices do is chest compressions automatically and continuously. This frees up EMTs and paramedics to do other life-saving procedures.

The compressions are standardized and uninterrupted, which means the human error component is taken out of the mix for this part of CPR. The fact a machine can offer such a valuable life-saving technique is quite the thing.

ZOLL Technology

One of the more interesting technologies out there, this company has a predictive model using statistics in a given area to place an ambulance or emergency crew proactively. This is currently used in bigger cities on the East Coast and has made quite the impact.

The technology will gather all the data for a given period and, based on that, provide a rough estimate of where an emergency call has a good chance of happening for each time of day. If dispatch places a crew in that vicinity, it cuts down on response times. For more information, go to

Though a CAD and GPS are not exclusive to guiding ambulances and their drivers, their use is only now becoming more common on these emergency vehicles. Other agencies have made this technology standard on most emergency vehicles such as police cars. The different technologies mentioned are expanding every day, and developers are finding multiple uses for these models, especially in the era of COVID-19.

Emergency Communication Technology

Communication is the key to any well-run organization. This premise couldn’t be anymore critical than in emergency services. When a first responder such as a firefighter perishes, whether in an urban or wildland setting, one of the most significant factors for such a tragedy is a lack of clear and consistent communication. This is one area that can be mitigated and as technology advances, so does the types of communication devices that aid first responders in their jobs. These innovative devices not only save the lives of the public but of emergency personnel as well.

Intellistreets Lamps

So how do ambulance drivers know where to go?

The statistics support the claim that as a city grows in population, so do crime rates. One development combating this statistic is utilizing street lights for more than just lumination. Though these are found mainly in larger cities, smaller cities are also looking into these types of low-energy street lights, safety inspired lights.

Different companies are producing street lights that are equipped with varying degrees of safety functionality. Some of these functions include motion sensors that light an area when it senses any movement, cameras that function much the same way, and low-energy LEDs to cut energy costs. Some cities are installing different colored lights that can be triggered remotely by a dispatch hub to indicate where and what type of emergency is occurring.

iDAWG Communications

Don’t let the name fool you, iDAWG (Intelligent Deployable Augmented Wireless Gateway) is what will allow multiple agencies to communicate with each other in the field. Where CAD is a dispatch server allowing multi-agency communication, it is limited to a centralized dispatch center. iDAWG doesn’t do that.

This technology allows different types of machine to machine communication. What does that mean? It means cell phones, two-way radios, or any other device will be transmitted through this device like a repeater and made available to any emergency personnel on the ground. For those unfamiliar with what a repeater is, it bounces radio signals from communicative devices that need a line of sight to function. An iDawg would bounce signals from any number of multiple devices in emergencies—a truly innovative system.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

This is an older technology that is continuously evolving as technology advances. It utilizes mapping and demographics to create models for emergency responders to utilize. Anyone in emergency services can use it from cities to the wilderness during a wildfire.

Some of the more recent uses include mapping social structures in a city and locating possible trouble areas in case of disasters. GIS data can give leaders a step-up in knowing where they need to focus their attention in emergencies. In wildfires, this technology allows firefighters to form a plan of attack and build a clear picture of where that fire is going. This helps prevent fires from getting bigger and destroying resources.

Communication should be the basis of any strong emergency response for everyone involved. The systems and technologies above are only the tips of the iceberg of emergency response technology.

Interested in learning about becoming a firefighter? Check out our article HERE!

Smartphone Applications

In the age of smartphone devices of all shapes and sizes, this topic deserves its heading. As the types of Android and Apple phones ever-increase in their model numbers, so do the apps. This begs the question, what apps are worth buying to aid emergency services in their jobs? The following apps are rated high and worth downloading according to multiple reviews.

Smartphone Emergency Screen

This may not be an app or exclusive to emergency personnel, but still important to mention when discussing smartphones. It aids everyone involved in critical situations. In recent models of both Android and Apple smartphones, the emergency call screen allows anybody to access your phone for emergency calls to 911. Dispatchers can track your phone through GPS to find you or your phone, and this aids emergency responders save lives.

On a side note, make sure any young children know how and when to access this smartphone’s essential function.

ICE (In Case of Emergency) Medical Standard App

So how do ambulance drivers know where to go?

In the Apple App Store, this is rated number one for usefulness to emergency responders. You input all your pertinent medical information, including blood type, allergies, name, any medical conditions or medications, and emergency contacts. First responders can access it from a person’s emergency screen and be one-up on providing quality care in case of an emergency. Anything to make an ambulance crew’s job easier saves lives.

ERG 2020 App

Not all apps are for citizens to help emergency responders, and not all emergencies are ambulance runs to the hospital. Sometimes first responders have to respond to accidents involving hazardous materials and need to keep themselves safe. The PHMSA (U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration)’s 2020 Emergency Response Guidebook allows emergency responders access to guidelines when dealing with these types of accidents. App

This quick reference allows EMTs and Paramedics to cross-reference drug interactions and possible medications patients may be on. It also has a pill identifier to verify what a patient may be on. Though anybody can access this very valuable tool, more and more first responders are utilizing this app.

These apps skim the multitude of apps out there that aid emergency services personnel. Different agencies and companies will have useful updated lists that are the most valuable to first responders.

Related Questions

How do ambulance drivers know where to go?

Ambulance drivers are dispatched from a central dispatch hub to emergencies. The dispatch hub will relay addresses and directions to the driver through a system called CAD (Computer-Aided Dispatch). Drivers will also familiarize themselves with their response areas so they can find street names and addresses.

Do ambulances have GPS?

Not all ambulances are equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS). Ambulances in the rural areas or run by counties are usually older and do not have this technology. Privately owned and larger city ambulances do have GPS on most of their vehicles. With the smartphone’s advent, many ambulance drivers, EMTs, or paramedics will utilize a GPS map application on their phones if one is not equipped on the ambulance.

What happens if an ambulance gets stuck in traffic, behind a train, or delayed in some way?

If an ambulance is detained through no fault of their own, they will call dispatch to see if another crew is available. If that doesn’t happen, they will have to wait until the obstacle is clear. Suppose the delay is due to traffic and its inability to pull over. In that case, a police officer or other emergency vehicle will try and get around the traffic and start making a route for the ambulance.

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