A Medical Device Daily

The National Institutes of Medicine (NIH; Bethesda, Maryland) hopes a new software for hand-held organizers will help first responders during a hazardous-material (hazmat) accident.

The NIH's National Library of Medicine (NLM) recently released software for personal digital assistants that will provide emergency personnel with information on hazardous substances, including physical characteristics, human health data, and containment and suppression information.

"First responders in general, and Hazmat units in particular, must make decisions quickly in handling hazardous-materials incidents," said Jack Snyder, NLM's associate director for specialized information services. "They need accurate information about hazardous substances, emergency resources available, and surrounding environmental conditions to save lives and minimize environmental impacts."

The Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders – or WISER – is customized for quick access to information required by emergency personal. Users choose the role they are performing on scene and organize critical information in a sequence most relevant to a first responder, hazmat specialist or emergency medical specialist.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard's National Response Center, hazmat incidents have been increasing yearly since 1991, with roughly 34,000 incidents reported in 2004.

Using input about observed physical properties of the unknown substance, along with reported symptoms and observable signs among victims, the software helps users narrow the range of possible substances involved.

As response personnel enter the properties and symptoms they observe, WISER's database searches for chemical substances that have the same characteristics, the list of chemical candidates decreasing as additional information is provided. The system can present a list of candidates at any point in the process.

The operational versions of WISER currently are available for Palm Pilot's Palm OS and for Dell's Pocket PC. Free downloads are available at http://WISER.nlm.nih.gov.

NIH reports that more than 1,700 copies of the software have been requested and downloaded so far. A desktop version will be available later this spring, and a web-based version also is being developed.

NLM is working with regional and local emergency response organizations and using their feedback as input for future enhancements. The agency currently is working with CapWIN, an integrated transportation and criminal justice information wireless network across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC.

The software also is being incorporated into training programs.