UMass Amherst Engineer is Developing a New System Designed to Save Lives at Mass-Casualty Disaster Scenes

November 19, 2012

Contact: Patrick J. Callahan 413/545-0444

AMHERST, Mass. – A University of Massachusetts Amherst engineering professor has been awarded a four-year, $1.6-million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue her research on a computerized disaster-management response system. Aura Ganz, professor of electrical and computer engineering, says the system is designed to quickly organize chaotic, mass-casualty, disaster scenes, such as airliner, bus and train wrecks, and cut the evacuation time of survivors in half.
 
For the past several years, Ganz has been developing what she calls the DIORAMA I system, designed to coordinate the initial response in mass-casualty incidents and improve the management of resources. The work was funded with the help of a $400,000 exploratory NIH grant. This latest grant will fund DIORAMA II, the next generation of her system. It is designed to rapidly map out the exact locations of the most severely injured victims at a disaster scene, as identified by a first-response triage team, to allow ambulance crews to find and evacuate critical cases first.
 
The term “diorama” usually refers to a replica or scale model of a landscape or some other scene, such as a battle. In this case, DIORAMA is the map of a disaster scene on the computer screen of the incident commander in charge of coordinating the emergency response. The DIORAMA map can pinpoint the locations of all the medics and victims at the scene and allows the commander to quickly organize the whole emergency response operation.
 
“The first problem is the immediate response,” says Ganz. She says what happens in the critical minutes immediately after a disaster occurs is crucial to whether or not badly injured victims can survive. “This is the most challenging issue in emergency management of a mass-casualty disaster, and this is the problem NIH is asking me to solve. The aim of the project is to streamline the triage process and significantly reduce the time it takes to rescue victims,” Ganz says.
 
DIORAMA II will provide a real-time, scalable, decision-support framework built on rapid information collection and accurate resource tracking. It will also speed the locating of victims, diagnosing of the most severely injured casualties, and management of response teams in mass-casualty incidents.
The primary goal of DIORAMA II is to cut the evacuation time of victims from the disaster site by 50 percent, compared to the standard evacuation systems used now. It also promises 100 percent evacuation efficiency of all triaged victims and 100 percent geographical verification of the locations of all triaged victims upon first responder triage.
 
Beyond those key benefits, DIORAMA II will enable rescue personnel to treat the most critically injured victims first and assign emergency resources to the areas of the disaster in most need. It will also alert hospitals located near the disaster to prepare for the arrival of patients beforehand, yet another lifesaving characteristic of the system.
 
“There are many large-scale disasters that happen with buses overturning, trains colliding, multi-car pileups, air crashes,” Ganz says. “It is very difficult when medical personnel to arrive at a scene filled with chaos and debris and the victims spread all over the place and then try to carry out a fast and effective triage operation to save as many people as possible.”
 
Effectively handling a mass-casualty incident is often the greatest test a community's emergency medical system can face. Disasters disrupt the existing infrastructure and hamper the efficiency of search-and-rescue units. In disaster medicine triage, determining the number and location of victims, relative to the location of available resources, is crucial for maximizing and hastening rescue efforts, Ganz says.