UofSC receives grant to study chemical disaster preparedness

Posted on: 9/29/2014; Updated on: 2/10/2015
By April Blake, 803-777-5984

Getting help to people most in need of care during a chemical disaster is something most small communities are not prepared to handle. Joan Culley, an associate professor in the College of Nursing, was awarded a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Library of Medicine to fund a four-year study that will improve the triage process during chemical disasters like the one that occurred in Graniteville, S.C., in 2005.

During a large scale emergency, first responders and hospital personnel use triage to quickly assess patients and prioritize their care to save as many lives as possible. The study, "Validating Triage for Chemical Mass Casualty" uses computer data that improves early identification and patient processing for those admitted to the emergency department following a chemical disaster with many victims.

The continuous process uses computers to monitor and aggregate data across all patients that seek emergency services during a chemical disaster. "Integrating this technology into more user-friendly tools that can be used by emergency management provides a more efficient process to triage and monitor emergency department patients," Culley says. This technology will help hospital personnel to more quickly identify the probable chemical and report suggested emergency actions with the objective of reducing death and injuries.

"Technology systems are needed to improve the treatment of patients in emergency departments," Culley says. An additional goal of the study is to address the shortcomings observed on emergency efforts performed in the Graniteville chlorine incident.

Culley works with an experienced and skilled interdisciplinary team that includes scientists with specialties in Computer Science and Engineering, Industrial Hygiene, Biostatistics and Emergency Preparedness from the University of South Carolina, Biomedical Information Systems from Medical University of South Carolina and Chronic Disease Epidemiology from Tulane as well as community partners that include the UofSC Division of Law Enforcement and Environmental Health and Safety, the Columbia Fire Department's Haz-Mat Response Team, Aiken Regional Medical Center and community members from Graniteville.

The NIH grant is one of many awarded to Carolina researchers in recent years. The university is among a handful of institutions that have seen a notable increase in funding from the organization over the past decade to fund research in the health science fields.

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