When a major disaster or large-scale incident occurs, one major criticism often heard centres on the length of time it takes for first-responders to move into action. Using electronic armbands rather than traditional paper tags should make the triage system much more effective.
When a major accident or natural catastrophe strikes, the first job of the medical teams on the ground is to categorise and tag the victims according to the severity of their injuries. This assessment process, known as ‘triage’, is currently carried out by means of coloured paper tags, on which first-responders also note such information as the victim’s pulse and respiratory rates. Although extremely useful, this manual process leaves little room for frequent updates and moreover the paper tags are easily damaged during poor weather conditions. Now researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology (FIT), based in the German town of Sankt Augustin, are developing a system of ‘e-triage’ designed to indicate where the seriously injured are located and to transmit their vital signs to a control centre in real time. Instead of paper tags, luminous plastic electronic armbands are used to relay information about the health status of the injured.
Rapid communication the key
Following the general conclusion that in times of crisis, overall communication needs to be much more effective, the ‘BRIDGE’ project was set up under the 7th EU R&D Programme in April 2011. The objective is to improve first response medical care, optimise emergency management, and make the operation of rescue forces in response to large-scale accidents more effective during disaster response. And for this, communication between the various rescue and medical teams on the ground is absolutely crucial. The smoother the coordination, the greater the number of victims whose lives will be saved. The BRIDGE armband carries embedded GPS and RFID chips, plus electronics that enable it to communicate across an area network. Information is transmitted using a radio protocol such as Zigbee, a wireless local area network, or the general cellular network if it is still functioning after the disaster strikes. The data is displayed on tablets or smartphones used by the rescue teams, enabling rescue coordinators to obtain a precise view of what is happening on the ground. Rescuers can then work with full knowledge of the situation and take critical decisions rapidly.
Highly promising results
“With our e-Triage system, a severely injured person categorised 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,” explains Erion Elmasllari, a scientist at FIT. Last October researchers were able to test the system’s reliability in a live simulated terrorist attack on a ferry terminal at Stavanger in Norway. The ‘e-Triage’ system functioned perfectly. The next milestone will be a two-month test within a relief organisation, in which researchers will seek to demonstrate how e-Triage can speed up patient care, improve logistical processes, optimise rescue procedures and ultimately save more lives.