Revolutionizing emergency response: Eli's Journey

Starting at the age of 6, Eli Beer has been on a life-long journey to unite people in Israel and around the world.

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 emergency situations that routinely occur. Despite the obvious risks of living in an often chaotic and dangerous area, the state has no centralized emergency call system. Magen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross, is available in most urban areas to send ambulances to accident victims, but that leaves gaps in service in rural areas.

As a social entrepreneur, Eli Beer (Ashoka Fellow, elected in 2013) has created a strong network of volunteer emergency medical helpers to fill the gap between the first call to ambulance companies in life-threatening situations and the actual arrival time of medical professionals. Through his fleet of ambucycles, several thousand volunteers and training programs, Eli has accelerated response time to within minutes. In parallel of revolutionizing emergency response systems, his work brings Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities together to solve this common, yet crucial issue.

Eli's journey to unite people across Isreal began from a young age. When he was only 6-years-old, Eli Beer and his brother witnessed a bus bombing while walking home from school in Jerusalem. Eli heard someone calling out for help from amidst the chaos, but he didn’t know what to do and ran from the scene.  

The experience was life-changing.  Eli’s feeling of trauma following the attack motivated him to learn how to help save lives in emergencies.  At the age of 15, Eli became a volunteer EMT working on an ambulance corps.  One day, Eli’s team responded to a call of a 7-year-old child choking on a hot dog.  Due to traffic and road congestion, the ambulance took over twenty minutes to get to the scene. When they finally got there, Eli and his team began CPR, but moments later a doctor who lived nearby arrived and declared the child dead.   There needed to be a faster way to get help to patients in their time of need.

Eli realized that had the doctor, a neighbor, been alerted sooner the child might have survived.  His answer, then, to getting help to patients faster was activating a new group of first-responders right from the neighborhood.  Eli had heard of the Hatzalah model that started among Hasidic communities in Brooklyn in the 1960s in which local volunteer medics are equipped with communication gear and medical equipment would respond to calls from Jewish community members in their neighborhood.   The model inspired Eli and at 17, Eli organized a team of young like-minded EMTs in his community and, using a police scanner, started answering calls in their Jerusalem neighborhood.  

He later launched the innovative an ambucycle --a motorcycle fully equipped with emergency lifesaving gear.  Response times began to drop. Patients received treatment before the ambulance arrived and more and more lives were saved.

In 2006, Eli established United Hatzalah of Israel launching new volunteer rescue chapters throughout the country as well as recruiting rescue networks already active within Israel under the United Hatzalah umbrella. Now officially recognized as a national emergency response organization, United Hatzalah coordinates the activities of more than 3,000 medics, paramedics and doctors across the country responding to more than 700 calls a day. A call comes in through the national emergency line or directed to United Hatzalah and using innovative GPS and phone app technology, United Hatzalah’s volunteer pre-ambulance medics arrive on the scene with an average response time of under three minutes.

Eli’s key innovation from the Hatzalah model in the U.S. was not targeting the service to one particular group.  As Eli emphasized at his 2013 TedMed talk, “United Hatzalah is not about saving Jews, it’s not about saving Muslims, it’s not about saving Christians, it’s about saving people.”   Eli’s critical innovation to getting response times down was recognizing the need for every person to be involved regardless of their religion.  Eli noted that this integration was very hard in the beginning. “There were big differences in culture, there was a trust problem. Now that we have volunteers from all kinds of backgrounds working together, people understand they have a lot more in common and respect each other.  Our volunteers fight together for life.”  Because of this, the United Hatzalah is also a model for peaceful collaboration in Israel's contentious political climate.

United Hatzalah’s model is now being implemented around the world from Panama City, to Sao Paul to India.  The more inclusive approach is  even being imported back to the United States.  In Jersey City, USA, 100 CBECs (Community Based Emergency Caregivers) are now responding to 911 calls to provide pre-ambulance emergency care and Detroit Michigan has begun implementing the United Hatzalah model.