Sunday, April 10, 2011

Responding to Disasters

Dealing with humanitarian crises from Libya to Japan reminds us that fast and accurate information is imperative to respond effectively to emergency efforts. As Kathy Calvin, CEO of the UN Foundation says, “Today increased access to collaborative technologies and networks presents an important innovation milestone and an opportunity to rethink how data concerning urgent humanitarian needs are gathered, processed, and shared.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation have released the new publication “2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies”. The publication examines how technology can be used to further reshape the information landscape when aid groups and emergency responders are faced with sudden emergencies.

The report specifically examines how the humanitarian community and the emerging volunteer and technical communities worked together in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The report then recommends ways to improve coordination in future emergencies.

As Valerie Amos, UN under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said, “The challenge is to better coordinate efforts between the structured humanitarian emergency system and the relatively loosely organized volunteer and technical communities. She further explained “Without a direct relationship that includes both the humanitarian system and the volunteer and technical communities working together, runs the risk of mapping needs without being able to make certain that these needs can be met.” To view the report, go to www.unfoundation.or/disaster-report.

A new study addressing the use of telemedicine to respond to disasters such as earthquakes was just published by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College and the University of California, at Davis. The study envisions using technology more effectively to provide for improvements in patient outcomes after major earthquakes.

The study suggests that a control tower style telemedicine hub is needed to manage electronic traffic between first responders and remote medical experts, reports the study’s Senior Author Dr. Nathaniel Hupert, Associate Professor of Public Health and Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and Co-Director of the Cornell Institute for Disease and Disaster Preparedness.

The team’s results published in the “Journal of Medical Systems” show using telemedicine to link remote specialists and emergency responders in the aftermath of a wide spread disaster would decrease both patient waiting times and hospitalization rates at nearby hospitals. At the same time, it would be more likely for patients with life threatening injuries to receive appropriate case as compared with standard emergency department based triage and treatment.

“These findings demonstrate the need to use interdisciplinary approaches to deal with the complex issues that incorporate medicine, public health, and logistics,” says study lead author Dr. Wei Xiong, Assistant Professor of Public Health at Weill Cornell Medical College. “We applied engineering methods to look at how to effectively manage this type of emergency medical care.”

“We know that when disasters strike, local hospitals, clinics, and medical personnel can be completely overwhelmed,” says co-author Dr. Aaron Bair, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and Interim Director of the UC Davis Center for Health and Technology. “We focused on testing how telemedicine can expedite response and getting help to where it is needed in a relatively short timeframe.”