UofL researchers to tackle 'real-time' pandemic response

Date:  March 17, 2010

When a pandemic attack or natural disaster happens, some chaos seems inevitable.

No matter how well a community has planned its response, circumstances are changing constantly - and so should the response plan during and after an attack.

The University of Louisville is leading a federally funded effort to develop computer software that would allow health and emergency professionals to allocate and reallocate their resources - people and equipment - in response to the shifting conditions that would follow an attack.

UofL President James Ramsey and other officials announced March 16 that U.S. Department of Homeland Security funding, through the Somerset, Ky.-based National Institute for Hometown Security, would be used for the three-year project. The initial 18-month installment of the expected $3.3 million funding is $1.7 million, which U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers secured.

Ramsey praised Rogers' efforts and described the institute as "an organization we value greatly."

"UofL will have a major role in impacting homeland security on a national level," said Sam Varnado, chief technical officer for the National Institute for Hometown Security.

Varnado said his institute focuses on community needs related to a major event, whether it be sickness, natural disaster or a terrorist attack, and works with universities to put together a team to meet those needs. Then technology developed to meet a community's needs can be applied to national problems, he said.

The UofL research group, headed by industrial engineering professor Sunderesh Heragu, includes several professors from the J.B. Speed School of Engineering and the School of Public Health and Information Sciences. Heragu, the Mary Lee and George F. Duthie chair in engineering logistics and the director of the Logistics and Distribution Institute at UofL, said Murray State University and St. Louis University also are participating.

The group will work on a "real-time" decision-support system that could provide medical care where needed even when responders and health providers themselves are affected by a pandemic or flu outbreak. Heragu said some studies show up to 40 percent of the population could be stricken, and that could affect staffing by doctors, emergency responders, nurses and support service providers during the "medical surge" that could result.

The researchers also will factor in the medical logistics of getting supplies, hospital beds and caregivers where they are most needed. Other priorities will be meeting the mental health needs of health care and emergency workers strained by a disaster; securing medical information in such a public health situation; and protecting health care workers with necessary personal equipment.

"Lots of things have to be decided on the fly when things are constantly changing," Heragu said. "It's not a trivial problem by any means."

Heragu and a student also used a computer simulation model on a public health issue last fall when they presented information to police and emergency medical officials working on the large-scale, two-day effort to deliver thousands of doses of H1N1 vaccine to motorists at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. They collected data during the clinic to refine the model for future use.

For more information, please browse the following links:

http://www.wlky.com/video/22854516/ 

http://fox41.com/global/story.asp?s=12148815

http://www.wfpl.org/2010/03/16/u-of-l-to-lead-pandemic-response-research/http://louisville.bizjournals.com/louisville/stories/2010/03/15/daily11.html

http://www.whas11.com/news/Government-giving-UofL-3-million-to-fight-pandemic-outbreak-next-year-87793882.html

http://www.whas.com/cc-common/news/sections/newsarticle.html?feed=283307&article=6881433

 In the photo below, President James Ramsey, Dr. Sunderesh Heragu, University of Louisville and Dr. Sam Varnado, NIHS

 

In the photo below, the research team for the Real Time Decision Support System for Health Care and Public Health Sector Protection Project

NIHS News Image

The Challenge

The task of assuring the security of our homeland involves protecting the citizens of the United States, the nation's critical infrastructure and key assets. This is necessary to sustain the nation's vitality against terrorism and other threats. This protection must originate at the community level. It requires discovering, developing and deploying new technology that will support first responders and key decision makers in local communities.

The Mission

NIHS' mission is to discover, develop and deploy solutions that protect and preserve the critical infrastructure of the nation's communities.

The Institute

NIHS aligns projects and research objectives with the needs and requirements of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The strategy is to manage a distributed research enterprise that effectively transitions research and development into solutions. NIHS works with DHS to determine technology needs at the community level. Then, teams are quickly assembled from multiple universities to develop solutions to the needs.

The Strategy

Through management of the Kentucky Critical Infrastructure Protections Program (KCI), the National Institute for Hometown Security (NIHS) provides an ongoing, integrated program dedicated to developing new technologies and devices. NIHS works through qualified academic institutions to accomplish the technological objectives.