Better first response medical care during catastrophes

Dec 16, 2013
The armband color coding indicates the severity of injury. First responders can decide immediately whether the victim should be taken to a hospital or can be treated on site. Credit:  Fraunhofer FIT

When large-scale emergencies occur, it often takes far too long before victims receive the care their injuries demand. Now a new electronic system has been designed to support helpers during the initial assessment of victims and to speed up patient care.

When a major catastrophic event occurs, every second counts. During instances such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, accidents in chemical plants, or train crashes, many human lives depend on how well the rescue services are coordinated. The better relief forces communicate with each other, the more victims they can rescue. The swifter the initial assessment of those affected by the disaster (during which they are tagged according to the severity of their in- juries), the faster they can be evacuated and taken to suit- able nearby hospitals. At present, this initial assessment – or "triage" as the professionals call it – is carried out using colored paper tags which first responders attach to victims. The color coding (green, yellow, red, and black) indicates the severity of the injury and the treatment priority. Pulse and respiratory rate are noted on the tags by hand. This col- lected data summarizes the condition of the victim at the time of triage, but the manual process means frequent up- dates are seldom possible. Another drawback is that the paper tags are easily damaged during poor weather conditions.

Better first response medical care, optimized , and the more ef- fective operation of rescue forces in response to large-scale accidents are the goals that the EU's BRIDGE project is trying to promote (www.bridgeproject.eu). The EU is funding the project to the tune of 13 million euros, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT in the German city of Sankt Augustin is responsible for its overall technical coordination. With eTriage, FIT researchers are developing a system to replace the paper tags. The system will locate casualties and transmit their vital signs such as pulse, res- piratory rate, and blood oxygen to emergency response control centers in real time.

Emergency management with GPS and RFID

eTriage consists of several elements. Instead of using paper tags, first responders put color-coded armbands made of light, bendy plastic on casualties. These triage armbands are the cornerstone of the system and comprise a GPS sensor, an RFID chip, and a net- work component for communication with the data network. Unharmed people receive only an armband with GPS sensor, whereas unstable and severely injured victims have sensors attached to their bodies that transmit vital signs to the emergency response control center. The armband functions as an interface and network node. The data can be transmitted via a ZigBee – a slow but far-ranging and economical radio network – but also via WLAN or the cellular network.

"This is a big advantage, because communication is often the first thing that breaks down during a catastrophe. We use the other networks when they're available, but when they're not, we simply build our independent, fully functioning ZigBee network. The required infra- structure is already there in the armbands. It works automatically – there's no extra work involved," explains Erion Elmasllari, a scientist at FIT. Triage relays attached to first res- ponders' belts additionally function as caches, data backup and data transmitters should the ZigBee network ever collapse.

Data transmitted by triage armbands is displayed on a tablet PC or smartphone. A map view and an augmented reality view give first responders and response coordinators a quick overview of the situation on the ground. By clicking on icons whose colors match those of the armbands, they receive all the information available about the location of vic- tims, their state of health, degree of injury, and physical signs. Rescuers see at a glance where the majority of severely injured casualties are located. They can decide immediately which hospitals victims should be taken to, whether on-site care is sufficient or whether heli- copters should be requested. "With our eTriage system, a severely injured person categorized as red is reported within no more than 30 seconds and can be evacuated immediately. With the conventional paper tag method, it often takes up to 30 minutes before the victim is evacuated," says Elmasllari.

Researchers were able to test the system's reliability in a live situation during a five-hour major disaster exercise – a simulated terrorist attack on a ferry terminal – that took place this October in Stavanger in Norway. Throughout the large-scale operation with 350 victims, 50 first responders, 30 ambulances, several helicopters, and a mobile response control center, the interplay of triage components worked perfectly. The next milestone is a two- month test within a relief organization, with researchers looking to demonstrate how eTriage can speed up , improve logistical processes, and optimize rescue procedures.

Explore further: Improving communication during disasters

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Improving communication during disasters

May 13, 2013

A small armband which can be attached to the injured. An information board containing a complete visual record of events. This is technology helping to improve communications during major national disasters.

Triage decisions differ for paramedics and physicians

Jul 13, 2012

(HealthDay) -- Real-time emergency room triage decisions by paramedics agree with the triage decisions of emergency residents about half the time, according to a study published in the July issue of the Journal of ...

Saving lives with 10-kilo phone network

Jul 22, 2008

A ten-kilo GSM mobile phone network developed by European researchers will allow rescue workers to set up communications just hours, or even minutes, after a man-made or natural catastrophe. It will mean more ...

Recommended for you

Smart sensor technology to combat indoor air pollution

Apr 14, 2014

Indoor air quality (IAQ) influences the health and well-being of people but for the last 20 years there has been a growing concern about pollutants in closed environments, the difficulty in identifying them ...

Drones used to assess damage after disasters

Apr 11, 2014

Researchers of the University of Twente use a new method to map structural damage after disasters. A remote-controlled drone with a regular high-quality camera takes a large amount of pictures of a building. ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.