Life-saving PulsePoint app working again in Cleveland after more than a month offline

Published: Jul. 25, 2023 at 10:34 AM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A life-saving app used by citizens and first responders to rescue someone suffering from cardiac arrest was offline in the city of Cleveland for more than a month.

This Monday, PulsePoint was back up and running after 19 Investigates reached out to the city in the morning.

19 Investigates dug into the problem to find out why the app wasn’t working.

It relies on Cleveland’s dispatch center to help send out alerts.

PulsePoint crowdsources CPR. It alerts strangers using the app when a need for CPR comes up within a quarter mile of their location, in a public area.

The app also maps out the closest AED device.

It’s activated by local dispatch centers when a call goes out to EMS.

We spoke with a local paramedic who has used PulsePoint to save lives when he’s off-duty.

Timothy Sommerfelt is a Cleveland EMS paramedic and founder of the Gordon Square CPR Initiative.

“A couple of years ago, we were hanging up posters for our CPR program and we got an alert from the PulsePoint app. It said that somebody needed CPR, we were able to make our way over here and we found somebody was half in, half out of a car, and we found they had overdosed on opioids, they were turning blue and not breathing at all. We were able to breathe for them using a BBM, our bag valve mask, and naloxone via one of these kits here,” Sommerfelt said.

He said they continued giving the person oxygen until EMS arrived.

This person woke up and walked away, refusing an ambulance.

“This is an example of a really good case, because for every second you go without oxygen, your chance of survival decreases drastically,” Sommerfelt said.

“So in these types of situations, we really need the public to step up, provide early CPR, give naloxone if you have it. EMS and fire will still come out, we’ll still respond, but that extra few minutes of CPR, getting oxygen in the brain, can really make a difference in the outcome,” he said.

We’re told PulsePoint saves at least one life a month in the city and has more than 10,000 subscribers in Cleveland.

So we wanted to find out why did this life-saving app went offline in the city for more than a month.

19 Investigates found it was due to a potential cyber security threat.

The city of Cleveland told us they got a notice on June 16 concerning the medical priority dispatch (ProQA) software.

They disabled the PulsePoint app following an assessment and added security measures.

A spokesperson also told us in an email:

“While the City will not speak to or speculate on the security posture of another city that chose to leave the app on, this was a known exploited vulnerability that had locked up other Dispatch Centers 9-1-1 Computer Aided Dispatch Systems. The City took all precautions in mitigating the potential threat from impacting the 9-1-1/CAD system which included shutting down the app and then updating security countermeasures.

The City consulted with its independent security consultant considering the mitigation efforts as it relates to our security posture and turning the app back on.”

An inside source told 19 Investigates they were very concerned about the app not working and Cleveland was the only city they knew of that turned off the app because of this cyber security threat.

We reached out to PulsePoint about the issue, but we have not heard back.

The city of Cleveland turned the PulsePoint app back on Monday morning after more than a month...
The city of Cleveland turned the PulsePoint app back on Monday morning after more than a month offline.(WOIO/PulsePoint)

Sommerfelt is relieved PulsePoint is back online again.

“I think it’s great, I think everybody needs to use this app. Again, you might not know who this person needing CPR could be, it could be your friend, your neighbor, a loved one,” he said.

His dad Robert has saved three lives using the app with only CPR training.

“It always seems a little strange to say, you’re going to help somebody, you’re going to save their life. It turns out for me, it wasn’t that big of a deal. When it’s in front of you, you say ‘I have to do something.’ And I’m really glad I know how to do what I need to do to help this person,” he said.

First responders call the people who use these apps and save lives “citizen super heroes.”

Several cities in northeast Ohio are also signed up for PulsePoint.

When CPR-trained citizens respond, the app can also guide them through chest compressions or hands-only CPR.