Responders react to a simulated natural disaster during exercise Vigilant Guard (DOD)

Tomorrow's medkit: Mesh networks, augmented reality and mobile clouds

Medical responders deployed in the wake of a disaster are often challenged by damaged infrastructure that limits their ability to coordinate and transmit medical information as injured patients are readied for transport to local hospitals.

To help address this need, researchers at the University of Missouri have developed a multiple-casualty management system called Panacea's Cloud. The self-contained communications environment provides a common operating picture that allows medical incident commanders to instruct and direct medical teams in emergencies, facilitating real-time triage and increasing situational awareness. It was developed through a collaboration between Prasad Calyam, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and Salman Ahmad, an assistant professor of surgery in the MU School of Medicine.

The system includes a wireless mesh network, mobile cloud processing and storage, an intelligent dashboard, wearable augmented-reality devices and internet-of-things devices like virtual beacons and sensor nodes.

A fault-tolerant Wi-Fi network that is operational over one or two city blocks is enabled by small, rugged containers featuring a mobile router and a Raspberry Pi server, according to a 2017 paper on the technology. Using a chain of such devices, the mesh network can be expanded to a larger area and connected to the internet grid and to the incident commander's remote dashboard.

Users can enter new patients and staff information into a database, create and maintain an incident and receive updates in real-time. Panacea's Cloud also enables data storage after the incident for review and documentation.

A dashboard maps location and status of patients and responders and allows administrators to access audio and video from responders' GPS- and Wi-Fi enabled heads-up displays such as Google Glass and Recon Jet. Relevant information can be selected and transmitted to emergency rooms preparing for incoming patients.

The heads-up displays allow responders to transmit data hands free and gives command staff eyes-on information they need to advise or intervene as necessary. Virtual beacons connected by wristbands to patients document both their location and status through a low energy Bluetooth connection and pass that information on to the dashboard.

A commissioned market research study provided the researchers with 1,700 responses from first responders who confirmed an unmet need for such a technology.  “They validated that on-site incident command systems that provide real-time situational awareness are really lacking, and that there is a real need for Panacea’s Cloud-like systems that can augment advanced technologies being used in public safety organizations,” Calyam said.

Trials conducted with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Missouri Task Force 1, an urban search-and-rescue task force, showed that the average data entry time per incident with Panacea’s Cloud in search and rescue scenarios was three times faster than the data entry time with their current GPS-based devices, UM officials said in a statement.

The system would also be useful for medical triage, search and rescue operations and campus safety, such as university police departments, along with federal agencies that want to improve training and protocols for disaster response, Calyam said.

The researchers are also studying how to incorporate drones into the systems, with Panacea’s Cloud acting as a ground control station, "to create environmental situational awareness across a large region to plan an efficient and effective response," he said.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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