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CDC's FASTER Pilot Shows Improved Tracking of Nonfatal Gun Injuries

For the past three years, a pilot project in 10 states that wraps up this August has shown how federal crime data might fill some of the gaps that hamper the tracking of gun violence, The Trace reports in the inaugural edition of a new newsletter on gun violence solutions called The Trajectory. The new effort, known as FASTER, or Firearm Surveillance Through Emergency Rooms, is testing whether it can accurately track emergency room visits for gun injuries in near-real time. Because most gunshot wounds — upward of 90 percent — result in a hospital visit, such an effort is likely to catch most nonfatal shooting injuries. “We can support local and state health departments to respond more quickly to upticks, or abnormal patterns of firearm injury ED visits in their jurisdiction,” said Marissa Zwald, of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “And that’s really the most important piece of FASTER — that data-to-action component.”


The goal of FASTER is to enable and encourage state and local health agencies to rapidly track emergency department-treated firearm wounds, classify them by intent, share that data with the CDC, and then use the information to help their local communities respond. State health departments, for example, could help cities target resources or develop violence prevention programs. FASTER, which provides grants to state health departments, builds on another federal-state partnership that has been used to track infectious diseases and other public health threats using data from ER visits known as the National Syndromic Surveillance Program, or NSSP. These systems were part of the discussion last week in Milwaukee at CDC's first National Violent Death Reporting System Conference, a sort of delayed celebration of the 20th anniversary of the founding of the National Violent Death Reporting System. The NVDRS tracks all kinds of violent deaths — from gunshots to poisonings — in great detail, serving as the foundation for some of the best public health research and prevention efforts across the country. While the NVDRS serves as a gold standard for data on fatal injuries, it doesn’t come without limitations. The database contains most violent deaths in the U.S. and hundreds of variables about the circumstances that led to and surrounded those deaths, which is valuable but time-consuming to produce. It takes between 16 and 18 months for state health officials to collect death investigation records, process them, and upload them to the system. NVDRS doesn’t track nonfatal injuries. The system was never intended to, but for prevention efforts, that information is just as important. That is where FASTER enters the picture. FASTER is already providing benefits in states where it is operating. “It obviously is more timely,” said Elizabeth Blankenship, an epidemiologist focusing on violence at the Georgia Department of Public Health, during a presentation in Milwaukee. “We really have just a great picture of both the morbidity and mortality side of things, and hopefully FASTER will be able to evolve outside of just firearm incidents.”

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