5 Information management tools for public health [HazMat]

By Jamie England & Murray Purves

Information management tools for HazMat situations are extremely valuable. Each scenario is different and can be greatly affected by the surrounding environment and population.

Despite the uncertainty that usually surrounds these situations, it’s the job of first responders, emergency services, authorities, government, and all involved to identify these situations and protect public health.

Riskaware have made it a priority to help these groups do their job as efficiently, effectively, and safely as possible. To do this, we have created 5 information management tools that empower users with a thorough understanding of CBRN/HazMat incidents and how they may affect the population.

The importance of information management tools

Emergency services, local authorities, military groups, and any other groups involved in managing an emergency incident need to know as much information about it as possible before and during their response activity. This enables them to make more informed decisions about their actions – with greater situational awareness, they can create more effective and efficient response strategies that will better protect a greater number of people.

For example, fire services will need to know details like the location and the severity of a fire so they can get there quickly, bring the correct equipment, and ensure they are adequately prepared for the situation.

The same applies for CBRN/HazMat incidents. Although they aren’t an everyday occurrence, it is vital to gain knowledge about an incident and prepare a more effective strategy to protect the public.

How do responders gain information during a CBRN/HazMat incident?

There are certain types of key information when responding to an incident which will already be known. For example, a paramedic on the scene will likely have training on what certain materials or agents can do to people, giving them the knowledge on how to best treat their patient. Similarly, there will be pre-prepared information available about certain materials, such as the behaviour and features of a particular CBRN/HazMat agent.

However, this information doesn’t provide information about the parameters of a particular incident. Therefore, responders need a way to gain knowledge about the live event at hand to help them decide what the correct response should be.

There are key questions responders will want to answer:

  • What is the incident and the material involved
  • Where has the incident occurred and over what area
  • How and where the incident is likely to spread
  • What the impact of the material and incident may be
  • How many people the incident may affect

Here are some examples of sources responders can use to gain this information:

  • Live information such as eyewitness accounts, CCTV, drones
  • Incident modelling tools
  • Historical meteorology
  • Urban environment data

Information management tools

Riskaware has produced a suite of tools that collects all of the most critical information responders may need before, during or after a CBRN/HazMat event. The HASP suite, which is made up of five different information management tools, was designed to be a comprehensive hazard intelligence platform.

Together, all these tools will help authorities, military, or emergency services answer the key questions they need to know about a CBRN/HazMat incident, empowering them with greater situational awareness and decision support for creating and deploying effective responses.

Urban Dispersion Model (UDM)

UDM models the dispersion of an airborne hazardous material within an urban environment, with consideration of how the buildings will affect its movements. This tool is designed to work accurately and quickly, so users can understand how a contaminant might travel and spread, and in what direction, in order to see what areas might be impacted.

Use Case

An example use case would be a fire in a chemical or industrial unit. This would release hazardous materials into the air, the direction of which would be affected by both wind activity and thermal lift from the fire itself.

How it informs response

Knowledge of the dispersion of a hazardous material helps responders make the following decisions:

  • Whether a cordon is necessary, and over what area to place it
  • Which areas may need to evacuate
  • Which roads are safe for emergency services (or others) to use
  • Which areas (e.g. roads, buildings, open spaces) should be closed
  • Which areas to prioritise for decontamination

Geographic and environmental database information system (GEDIS)

GEDIS is a data source tailored to work with other tools in the HASP Suite – such as UDM – providing crucial data about the surrounding environment, such as urban topography, urban canopy, wind profile, natural environmental characteristics, and population data.

GEDIS has detailed information about a number of environments, enabling coupled modelling tools to accurately simulate the behaviour of materials and phenomena in those environments. For example, wind fields are likely to behave very differently within an urban canyon compared to between trees, or 10m above the ground compared to 100m. All of these factors can affect how fast, far, and in what direction a plume will expand or disperse.

Using this information, GEDIS enables UDM and other tools to accurately depict the transport and diffusion of a plume of hazardous material.

The population information GEDIS provides further enables users to conduct consequence assessments which produce calculations about how the incident will affect the population, such as how many people will be exposed to a release in a certain area.

Use Case

An example use case could be an industrial facility that has experienced a leak. The dispersion of this leak would be impacted by wind activity and the impacts of the leak would depend on whether any populated areas were nearby and/or downwind.

How it informs response

GEDIS provides situational context to an incident. This not only ensures more accurate results from coupled modelling and simulation tools, but it enables responders to evaluate the potential impacts of an incident. First responders can therefore understand the potential severity of the effects to different areas or populations, and therefore prioritise and target their response.

Urban Subsystem (USS)

The USS provides coupled indoor and outdoor CBRN dispersion models that map the movement of hazardous airborne materials between indoor and outdoor environments. This allows users to see how a material may travel into and disperse throughout a building from outside, and vice versa, considering factors such as wind flow – giving greater intelligence about how much contaminant may be inside.

Through integration with advanced indoor modelling, dispersion through more complex zones can be simulated, such as interconnected rooms and corridors with ventilation systems and doors.

The USS tool also allows the user to choose between more detailed models that take longer to generate, or coarser models that are significantly quicker, depending on the priorities of the situation.

Use Case

USS could be applied to protect high-value buildings such as government buildings. It would help analyse how an incident occurring outside may filter into and spread throughout the building, determining whether the people inside are at risk.

How it informs response

This enables authorities to determine how to manage the people inside a building and determine the best strategy for keeping them safe. It can help answer the following questions to help response creation:

  • Whether to evacuate the building
  • Whether people are safer against the contaminant inside
  • What effect closing the windows and doors may have
  • Which room within a building is likely to be the safest
  • How people’s movements can impact air flow, and therefore contaminant spread

Sensor Placement Tool (SPT)

SPT helps users define the optimal locations to place sensors in a geographic area for the purpose of protecting that area. It analyses what sensors can detect and at what time if placed in certain locations, to help users generate the most cost-effective and successful deployment strategy.

SPT considers several factors when analysing sensor effectiveness, including the purpose of the facility being protected, what threats may be present, and the type of intelligence users need to know about an incident.

For example, sensors designed to catch an attack very early and quickly (e.g. for protection of a location), will function best in a different location than sensors designed to determine the characteristics of a CBRN/HazMat incident with certainty (e.g. for identifying industrial accidents).

Use Case

Two primary uses case for SPT would be to defend a military base from enemy attacks or as a health and safety measure within an industrial factory.

For the industrial factory, the user’s location is the source. Sensors could be places surrounding the site for the purpose of detecting any leaks before they reach the public. In contrast, a military base would be detecting external CBRN/HazMat sources such as those from a malicious attack.

How it informs response

SPT provides essential decision support that can ultimately enable faster, more efficient responses to CBRN/HazMat events. It considers the following criteria for users to help them determine the most optimal position for their sensor network;

  • How quickly/early the contaminant needs to be detected
  • How accurate the readings need to be
  • How quickly the contaminant is moving
  • Any other factors that need to be known about the contaminant

Source Term Estimation (STE)

STE is a tool used to determine the cause of a release and information surrounding the source incident. Using information provided by sensor equipment and manually input data about the incident, it can help to determine the following details:

  • Time of release
  • Duration of release
  • Size of release
  • Wind speed and direction estimate
  • Geographical source
  • The probability of the detected material being the source

STE will output probability curves that display a map of likely hotspots for the source of the incident. It can also forward model the spread of the CBRN/HazMat material in time to predict where it is likely to go in future.

Use Case

Similarly to SPT, STE can be used in both civil and military scenarios where a CBRN/HazMat incident is risk, to detect the presence of a CBRN/HazMat hazard.

How it informs response

Unlike the other tools which provide intelligence to inform a response, STE may be what triggers the response. It will instantly initiate modelling based on a sensor alert and could be the first warning of a CBRN/HazMat incident and the first stages of its development.

In a military scenario, it would help determine where to direct soldiers, and in a civil scenario STE would help determine where to deploy resources or enact a response.

Discover more about our HASP Suite and download the datasheet.

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