Norwegian researchers are working on a geolocation-based system for providing a visual overview of events at the scene of a disaster

EU partners develop tech for major disasters

An EU-funded project is looking into how technology can help to improve response strategies.

BRIDGE, a project set up to address emergency response collaboration during disasters, is developing technologies to improve communications during major national disasters including a geolocation-based system and armbands for the injured.

“We should be concentrating on the sharing of information between the police, fire and health services,” says SINTEF researcher Jan Håvard Skjetne, who is also a project manager for BRIDGE. But, referring to situations like the recent Boston bombings, he points out that “there was perhaps too much focus on the police and terrorism angle”. 

“It is in such situations that we can envisage the use of technical systems which establish closer links between the police, health and fire service crews,” he said.

To this end, Norwegian researchers from SINTEF have come up with the idea of a geolocation-based system for providing a visual overview of events taking place at the scene of a disaster. Information is then shared between the various units deployed by the emergency services, using tablets, PCs and large information boards.

“This assembles all available data and displays it on a map,” said Skjetne.

The information is made available to both personnel out in the field and also emergency centre staff who coordinate the responses from their desks. This means information can be shared between the two resulting in better control of the operation.

A shared awareness of the situation by emergency services could prove vital during a major disaster, where chaos rules.

The researchers also worked with the other partners of the EU project in developing a concept designed to ensure that hospitals work more efficiently in disaster zones – a small armband which can be attached to the injured following an accident. The German Fraunhofer research centre has now produced the armband.

The armband forms part of an electronic system which prioritises the injured into groups according to the urgency of their injuries. The armbands are colour coded, so emergency response staff can label each patient according to the seriousness of their injuries. For example, urgent cases are indicated by those wearing red armbands

The system may seem simple or like other triage systems already in use by A&E, but it can be extended to include pulse measurements and ECG, Skjetne pointed out. “The key here is that all injured persons are given a unique identification tag, and in this way it is possible to follow an injured person from the scene of the accident to the hospital,” he said.

He referred to a statement made by the health services: “If there are more than five injured persons following an accident, we lose track of where these are located and what is happening to them.”

The triage system will soon be tested as part of a major Norwegian exercise to be held outside Stavanger in September.

For the emergency services to be able to share information, measures will be needed to help open up each in-house system. This is where the EU project comes in.

Skjetne says it’s a long-term task to implement a shared emergency response system.

BRIDGE intends to build a system to support interoperability – both technical and social – in large-scale emergency management. The system will serve as a bridge between multiple First Responder organisations in Europe, contributing to an effective and efficient response to natural catastrophes, technological disasters, and large-scale terrorist attacks.

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