Trend: Unoccupied Ambulance Thefts Increase

Thefts concerns more than just the EMS industry

 

An increase in the number of unoccupied ambulance thefts was recently brought to the attention of the Central Florida Intelligence eXchange (CFIX), a regional fusion center. In October, the CFIX released a situation brief on the growing trend.

 

After examining case studies of ambulance thefts from across the nation, the CFIX identified similar pre-incident indicators, including:

  • The ambulance was left unattended;
  • The keys were left in the ignition;
  • The ambulance was left running;
  • Many of the thieves were under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and
  • Most of the thefts occurred while on scene or parked on ambulance ramps at hospitals.

The CFIX determined that the theft trend wasn’t specific to a geographic region. Instead, they say, ambulance thefts could occur anytime or anywhere the opportunity exists for criminals.

 

Public safety issues
Stolen ambulances put the safety of the public at risk when an inexperienced driver, especially under the influence of drugs or alcohol, operates an ambulance. Many ambulance thefts end in a crash that often involves injuries and significant damage to the unit. According to the report, in most of the cases, crashes and injuries occurred due to speed and inexperience of the thief.

 

An agency that has an ambulance stolen faces several issues. First, there’s the financial liability of the property damage and injuries that may have occurred as the result of a stolen ambulance.
Second, damage to the vehicle and the equipment and supplies it carries can represent a significant monetary loss. The effect can be especially devastating for a smaller ambulance company. Regardless of size, re-deploying an ambulance takes time and can create resource shortages elsewhere.

 

Homeland security concerns
While the majority of ambulance theft cases typically involve an act of criminal behavior, there are concerns among counterterrorism authorities that stolen ambulances can be used for carrying out terrorist attacks.

 

The CFIX notes that when a cloned ambulance was spotted by a paramedic at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., law enforcement found a large cache of weapons, along with a significant number of bags of feces and urine that potentially could have been used to create a mass-casualty attack.

 

Overseas, terrorists have used stolen ambulances to carry out secondary and tertiary attacks on first responders.

 

Recommendations
The CFIX recommends additional training for paramedics and EMTs to improve situational awareness regarding vulnerabilities associated with ambulance thefts. They also suggest implementing protocols for transporting a patient, should the primary transport vehicle be stolen, especially if life-saving equipment is no longer available to the crew.

 

Other best practices exist. GPS tracking on ambulances allows law enforcement to chose the best time and place to apprehend the driver, rather than conduct a high-speed chase that could endanger the public. Other agencies, especially in larger cities, have implemented protocols to lock ambulances on scene. For those who don’t wish to lock the ambulance, vehicle disabling systems can be installed to shut off the engine if a driver attempts to leave without inserting a key.

 

Although most of the cases of ambulance theft appear to involve imbibing joy riders, the serious effect on the agency, public and potential national security risks require EMS managers to consider how to address ambulance theft.

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