How to save a life: Use PulsePoint app, Pittsburgh public safety says

More than 3,000 people in Allegheny County have already signed up.

Pittsburghers gather for the biannual citywide public safety meeting Wednesday night.

Pittsburghers gather for the biannual citywide public safety meeting Wednesday night.

MJ Slaby

It happens in just a few minutes.

During cardiac arrest, “the heart stops and the brain starts dying,” said Leonard Weiss, an emergency physician at the University of Pittsburgh.

And if blood isn’t restored to the brain in about four to six minutes, “You’re toast,” Weiss, who is also a command physician with Pittsburgh EMS, said at the biannual citywide public safety meeting Wednesday.

The meeting focused on technologies that help keep Pittsburghers safe, including MyBurgh (Android, iOS), which lets users report issues to 311; Block Watch programs for neighbors to get to know each other and microchip readers that reunite lost pets with their owners. 

While emergency workers are fast, a bystander doing CPR can make a difference until EMS arrives, Weiss said. That’s where the PulsePoint app can help.

Weiss said about 3,100 people in Allegheny County have signed up since PulsePoint was unveiled here July 7. It’s used in cities throughout the country.

“People are on their phone every second. This is a necessary wave of the future to save lives,” he said.


Here’s how it works:

  • Download the free app (AndroidiOS). 
  • Users are alerted by the app if there’s a 911 call for cardiac arrest in a public place within walking distance.
  • The app also shows the user where the closest AED is and has the steps for hands-only chest compression CPR (including a metronome to keep pace).

Without the app, only bystanders within “yelling distance” know to come help. But the app expands that area to include any bystander within walking distance, he said.

And anyone can use it, no formal certification needed.

“It’s a morbid way to say it, but the patient is already dead” during cardiac arrest, so it’s very unlikely that a bystander doing CPR can hurt them, Weiss said.

Plus, he said, with hands-only chest compressions, bystanders don’t have to worry about mouth-to-mouth and can focus on the compressions.

Weiss said his goal is to expand usage from about 3,100 people to 5,000.

Weiss said he’s heard stories of people using the app, but a life has yet to be directly saved by someone using it.

“When that happens, we’ll have a press conference,” he said, adding that statistically it’s bound to happen.

Currently, PulsePoint is funded by a two-year grant from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation and after that more funding will be needed to continue the program, Weiss said. But by then, he hopes the app is a necessary part of public safety in Pittsburgh.

PulsePoint also has a companion app called PulsePoint AED (AndroidiOS).

Users can take a photo of AEDs they see and enter them into the app to crowdsource where AEDs are located in the county.

“These are life saving devices that we don’t keep track of,” Weiss said.

And that’s because there’s never really been an infrastructure to do so and most AEDs are privately owned, he said. But this data could create that infrastructure and eventually update the main PulsePoint app to show more AEDs to users during an emergency.

Both apps are part of a campaign called ReLive that includes multiple city and county partners and aims to save lives in new ways.

And it’s starting with cardiac arrest, Weiss said.

PulsePoint AED

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