IE techniques aid Air Force disaster response

Posted Sept. 18, 2007


By Adedeji Badiru, Ph.D., Lt. Col. Dave Smith, Michael Grimaila, Ph.D., Major Jeremy Slagley, Lt. Col. Pat Kee, and Al Thal, Ph.D.

Safety is always on the mind of the industrial engineer. A team of researchers at the Air Force Institute of Technology is harnessing IE techniques to develop an integrated systems approach to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) disaster response. The team recently received $355,000 funding from the Air Force Surgeon General’s office to develop next-generation technology-based medical triage and situational awareness tool for use in a CBRN disaster response. The versatility of IE tools is exactly what is needed for the multi-faceted response needed for any CBRN disaster. A disaster response involves integrated systems of people, materials, information, equipment, and energy coupled with technical and social skills. This is precisely what industrial engineering deals with regularly.

Homeland security issues

It is inevitable that terrorists will employ weapons of mass destruction against the people, institutions, and military of the United States. The sarin gas attack in a Tokyo subway in 1995 showed the willingness for terrorists to deploy unconventional weapons to cause a mass casualty event. As a result, significant progress has been made in policies, processes, and technologies for responding to a mass casualty event. For example, the integration of emergency response teams from different communities of interest has resulted in specialized chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) first-responder teams to deal with an unknown mass casualty event.

Tools for first responders

When responding to any potential terrorist attack, the first task is to secure the area and ascertain the nature and severity of the threat. In most cases, both a primary and secondary perimeter must be established and secured. CBRNE response personnel are tasked with completing a thorough search of the perimeter in a timely fashion. Only after identifying the identity and physical properties of the substance that has been released can an effective outer perimeter be established, neutralizations plans formulated, decontamination procedures entertained, emergency medical treatment plans made, and environmental preservation precautions taken. In the event of a biological or chemical release, a large downwind area may also need to be secured and evacuated rapidly to minimize casualties. Medical personnel deployed at the scene have an operational requirement to establish medical situational awareness and relay real-time triage information through the medical chain for combat casualty care during a CBRN event.

Detection mechanisms

Technology advances now provide the emergency responder with a variety of monitoring, surveying, and testing equipment used to identify and quantify the presence of nuclear, biological, or chemical materials or agents. The development of reliable handheld detection equipment that can be carried into the perimeter provides detection capabilities that were formally available only in the laboratory. In a majority of cases, the information collected from detection equipment during the survey of a disaster site is recorded and possibly transmitted back to the command post manually. The burden of manual collection and dissemination of information adds to the significant physiological and psychological load for the CBRNE response personnel, increasing the likelihood of error. The use of a manual process injects also delays and prevents the scene commander from obtaining real-time situational awareness of the event.

Need for robust information architecture

Despite advances in dealing with CBRNE events, we still lack a robust and scalable information architecture to facilitate the automated collection, management, and dissemination of information collected at the scene of a mass casualty event. There is an urgent need, therefore, to provide CBRNE and deployed medical personnel first responders with an integrated system that enables the real-time data collection and secure dissemination of information to the command post and other first responders. The development of a generic system that can integrate with existing portable detection and information collection equipment will facilitate efficient and effective means of data collection, transmission, and recording and enhance the communication between the point of injury or site of exposure and reduce the treatment and response time by providing a more accurate and timely picture of the event.

Situational awareness and tech transfer

The long-term goal of the project is to provide first responders with the tools to enhance the security and reliability of the nation’s infrastructure that is controlled by the private sector. Therefore, there is an interest for technology transfer from military response to civilian response systems. The immediate purpose of the project is to integrate existing technological solutions and provide a prototype system that is flexible (not tied to a specific vendor), scalable, secure, and robust. The central hypothesis of the proposed work is that there exist commercial off-the-shelf technologies that can be integrated into a system that improves the capabilities to collect, record, analyze, and disseminate information to the site of a CBRNE event. The rationale that underlies the research is that, once a system is prototyped, it will be possible to show a reduction in the physiological and psychological load that CBRNE response personnel experience, a reduction of data errors, and a reduction in the delay between the time information is collected. This, in turn, will significantly enhance the scene commander’s situational awareness and provide valuable information to other emergency responders.

Collaborative research symposium

The research team combines a diverse range of basic, technical, emergency management, engineering, and social science modeling expertise. The team organized a CBRN Collaborative Research Symposium in Dayton, Ohio in early September. The symposium drew participants from several universities, businesses, industries, and government. Discussions at the symposium provided insights into how to design, organize, and implement disaster response, relief, reconstruction, rehabilitation, and environmental remediation. With the involvement of industrial engineering tools and techniques, it is expected that business and industry can play more active and direct roles to efforts to combat CBRN disasters and achieve homeland security.

Adedeji Badiru, Ph.D., Lt. Col. Dave Smith, Michael Grimaila, Ph.D., Major Jeremy Slagley, Lt. Col. Pat Kee, and Al Thal, Ph.D., are with the systems and engineering management department of the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Air Force Institute of Technology, United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or United States government. 

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