Critical care, information technology  

Belgian disaster victim tracking and tracing system demonstrated at University Hospital Antwerp

4 October 2006

Antwerp Belgium. Prof. Dr. Luc Beaucourt of the the University Hospital in Antwerp has demonstrated a new solution designed to simplify the registration and identification of casualties affected in a disaster situation. The solution, called BeViTTS (Belgian Victim Tracking and Tracing System), allows for the rapid exchange and automatic processing of data collected by emergency workers at the scene of a disaster.

The system was developed by Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) with AeroScout, CITS and Intermec, Orion Health.

The critical information is collected in real time using Cisco's mobile and wireless network technology, and stored and made available to the emergency workers via a web-based portal, thus eliminating the loss of precious time.

The crisis management team can consult the personal information contained in the database remotely from the crisis centre and immediately implement the required measures. Hospitals and other crisis support centres also have access to the medical information stored in the database, thus allowing them to prepare for the arrival and subsequent treatment of the disaster victims.

Life-saving technology

Prof. Dr. Luc Beaucourt, head of the hospital's emergency department and medical assistance director of the provincial disaster plan, said, "In the event of a disaster, the efficient collection and rapid forwarding of clear, accurate information to the right persons or authorities is literally a matter of life and death. The first hour after a trauma, which is generally known in the industry as the 'Golden Hour,' is crucial in defining the path of the subsequent treatment process. For this reason, it is vital that the victims of a disaster, particularly the seriously injured, receive the right treatment quickly.

"A quick, correct identification and registration procedure, preferably at the scene of the disaster itself, is indispensable. The closest emergency services and hospitals with the required capacity and medical provisions also have to be given adequate warning and accurate information. Not to mention the family of the victims and the residents in the vicinity of the disaster."

"Today, the gathering of information and communication between emergency services at the scene often leaves a great deal to be desired," said Cisco's John Baekelmans, Business Development Manager, who is himself a volunteer lieutenant with the local fire department in Kontich. "The limited or non-automated, manual approach to disaster management and the continued reliance upon paper correspondence over electronic data processing result in costly delays. Furthermore, the risk of human error is significantly increased, sometimes with fatal consequences.

"With today's short yet nonetheless true-to-life demonstration, we hope to show that there is another way. The technical tools needed to improve the efficiency of disaster relief, and thus save valuable human lives, are already available and have already even been implemented in other countries."

Tracking system setup

The core of the Belgian Victim Tracking and Tracing System is the Cisco 3200 Series Wireless and Mobile Router, also called the Mobile Access Router (MAR). This is a compact, robust device that is suitable for creating a wireless network connection in and around vehicles. The device can support many different network connections, both fixed and wireless, and can automatically switch from one to the other. If there are several available connections, the intelligent router automatically chooses the connection that guarantees most bandwidth.

Cisco Systems developed the Victim Tracking and Tracing System in close co-operation with other technology providers. AeroScout provides the active WiFi standards-based active RFID tags, and Choke Point Exciters for detecting entry and exit from hospitals, CITS the back end and portal infrastructure, Orion Health is the vendor of the Portal and integration software CITS used, as a platform, to develop the BeViTTS Portal and Intermec the system's wireless RFID reader.

European tracking systems

The most important source of inspiration was the Dutch Victim Tracking and Tracing System, for which Cisco also provided the technology. The system, which has been thoroughly tested in the Netherlands over the past few years, is now officially being put into practice over there.

While the Dutch emergency services still utilise the traditional barcode for registering and locating victims, the Belgian consortium has opted for the newer RFID technology. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) allows objects, animals or people to be identified using radio waves. The AeroScout tags utilise the Cisco wireless network for the hospital and eliminate the need for a dedicated location network and provide a scalable and easy to manage solution.

The technology is especially suitable for environments or situations in which data collection is extremely difficult and unpredictable and where there can be no guarantee that a barcode will remain clearly visible.

Tests are also currently being conducted in Germany incorporating GPS and GPRS technology for the registration and tracking of disaster victims. The information obtained via the GPS tracking system is available in real time for transmission to the back end via GPRS messages sent via the existing network.

John Baekelmans, Cisco Systems expects that all these inherently related initiatives with a national and thus relatively limited character, will form the basis for a more comprehensive project of European dimensions. "Such a project could lead, in a relatively short period of time, to the definition of a standard or a new XML format for data exchange in the event of a disaster or crisis situation," he concludes.

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