Creating a sense of calm amid chaos, and avoiding the natural fight-or-flight response in the face of an emergency, requires confidence not only in a responder’s training and tools but also in the governmental as well as private-sector support systems now available. When all of these elements work in concert, potential panic can turn into effective assuredness.

Numerous innovations in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) equipment and instrumentation continue to simplify certain tasks and save time. Success in the field, however, depends on the responder’s ability to: (a) properly deploy instruments; (b) understand their functions, limitations, and interoperability capabilities; (c) interpret results; and (d) recognize when the information is (or is not) sufficient to complete the task(s) involved. Instruments provide the data, but the operator must be able, even under duress, to provide an effective response based on that data.

Although training definitely helps by making tools seem more intuitive – and response options more predictable – the uncertain nature of hazardous emergency incidents makes it difficult to accurately simulate such scenarios in a room setting. Taking control of a chaotic situation depends on the ability of responders to adapt all of their assets – training, experience, and tools – to novel situations. Invariably, responders encounter unexpected circumstances including, but not limited to, the following: equipment failures; detectors providing what seem to be contradictory results; limited availability of personnel; varying levels of expertise possessed by personnel; and unreliable communication methods. Whatever the circumstances, though, the ability of the individual responder to adapt and improvise is still an essential factor for success in many emergency situations.

Real-Time Response Support 

By simplifying and streamlining response systems, operators have the ability to act more intuitively to each situation as it unfolds. Today’s responders have access to an array of powerful tools – including sophisticated instruments, decision support systems, geolocation and modeling systems, learning management and training systems, resource and personnel management systems, and incident command and control systems. However, without seamless integration, those essential tools might easily become disconnected stumbling blocks. The training and support systems needed, for example, are typically one or two steps removed from the incident – and for that reason usually confined to the room or an equipment-repair facility.

One not always obvious factor that can change this equation is the ability to provide an experienced community of real-time, on-demand support to those in the field. Building and implementing a real-time support system probably would depend primarily on expanding and improving the integration of multiple forms of data already available from numerous sources. To accomplish this goal, of course, data and information would have to be collected quickly from multiple instruments, systems, and roles in the emergency response organization and presented to team members when and where they need it.

Similar to the many operational successes of today’s global positioning systems, truly integrated support systems would quickly provide a new and operationally particularized inventory of roadmaps and workflow charts as well as a searchable and greatly expanded knowledge base. The responder would still make the final decisions but – with the equipment already available and the new systems just over the horizon – probably would be able to do so both more quickly and with greater confidence.

Innovations in Integration 

Considerable progress has been made toward a more integrated approach to training and support. Today, training is increasingly geared toward applications, targets, and categories rather than to a specific piece of equipment. Instrument operational principles are taught in the context of the responder’s applications and equipment set, while “cloud-based” support systems provide help that is more specific to the responder’s concept of operation. In fact, training events may contain elements of operator support, and technical support frequently takes on the role of issue-specific training.

Already, or soon to be, operational is a new generation of systems with the ability to not only provide the complete integration of training and support needed but also to translate the additional capabilities provided into the real-time operational information required at, during, and after a specific incident. Such abstract management terms as workflow, decision trees, and triage approaches will be much better understood, and troubleshooting videos on those and other topics also will be available, in real time, to on-scene responders. At the command center, meanwhile, the data and results available from a broad spectrum of different instruments and sources would be processed fully and effectively – in time to offer immediate conformational results as well as the ability to recommend next steps and fill in other data gaps.

In addition to a cloud-based multi-role support system, a support hotline staffed by CBRNE subject-matter experts would be able to offer live help to operators and repair personnel who encounter instrument problems. This service would be particularly useful in preventive maintenance and instrument repair. One example of the time and financial benefits that could be achieved: Support data collected in 2011 by KD Analytical (one of the private-sector “support systems” mentioned earlier) showed that, in certain incidents, more than 60 percent of the instrument problems that developed were resolved over the telephone – with the end-user completing the maintenance or repair. Making that support more widely available could increase equipment uptime – and also lead to significant improvements in end-user proficiency.

To briefly summarize, real-time integrated support for CBRNE responders will offer numerous benefits to the organizations and communities they serve: improved uptime and readiness; reduced cost through self-guided repair and equipment life-cycle extension; improved responder proficiency; and increased speed and efficiency during operations. In short, the future offers a new level of integration in which instrument maintenance, training, resource management, situational awareness, troubleshooting, and incident expertise all coalesce into a single real-time expert system guiding and supporting the most critical “component” of the emergency-response community – namely, the individual responder.

Craig Crume

Craig Crume is vice president and co-owner of KD Analytical Consulting Inc. He has more than 25 years of analytical experience training and supporting analytical equipment around the world and has published or presented more than 30 papers on field analysis. Since 2003, KD Analytical has provided training, instrument maintenance, and support to the CBRNE responder community through use of a web-based maintenance management system, ReadiTrak™, and 24-hour support center.

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