Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Chemical Companion' Helps First Responders And Hazmat Teams Identify Spilled Chemicals

Date:
April 14, 2006
Source:
Georgia Institute of Technology
Summary:
A new software tool known as the "Chemical Companion" will help first responders more quickly determine how to deal with chemical spills -- and identify unknown chemicals. The tool, which runs on personal digital assistants, includes information on 130 of the most common chemicals associated with hazmat incidents. It will be made available at no charge to the military, law enforcement officers and fire departments.

The "Chemical Companion" software tool runs on personal digital assistants to help first responders obtain the information they need to make critical decisions. (Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek)

When dealing with hazardous materials -- whether from a truck spill or a terrorist attack -- information is critical. Before first responders can begin to aid victims and decontaminate a scene, they must determine what substances are present and understand the inherent risks to humans and the environment.

To help first responders and hazardous materials (hazmat) teams, researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have developed the "Chemical Companion." This software tool, which operates on Windows CE-based personal digital assistants, provides detailed information on 130 of the most common chemicals associated with hazmat incidents.

"Knowing the characteristics of a chemical, such as its boiling point or density, tells us different things about how to approach the scene," said project co-director Christina Baxter, a senior research scientist in GTRI's Health and Environmental Systems Laboratory (HESL). "Suppose there's a fire. With some flammable substances, water might make the fire burn even hotter, and foam is needed to suppress the blaze."

Sponsored by the federal government's Technical Support Work Group, the Chemical Companion helps first responders make decisions about:

 

  • Protective equipment. Different chemical agents require different protective clothing and respirators.
  •  

  • Chemical reactivity, which can result in toxic fumes, fires and explosions. For example, if bleach (sodium hypochlorite) and ammonia come into contact with each other, they can create a deadly chlorine gas.
  •  

  • Isolation and protective zones. Distances will vary depending on chemicals involved, the size of a spill, weather conditions and time of day.
  •  

  • Appropriate medical aid, ranging from basic to advanced life support.

"With some chemicals like Ortheneฎ, which is a fire-ant killer, administering oxygen to a victim would have a detrimental effect," noted Amy Cook, a chemist in GTRI's Electro-Optical Systems Lab (EOSL).

First responders may be able to identify chemical agents from the shape of containers, shipping papers or signs posted at the hazmat scene. But if there are no solid clues, the Chemical Companion enables responders to identify an unknown chemical by entering details about the substance's physical appearance, such as odor, color and state.

Another option for pinpointing unknown chemicals is to report medical symptoms displayed by victims. For example, twitching, constricted pupils, excessive sweating and confusion might indicate the presence of the nerve gas sarin.

"The Chemical Companion makes it easy for first responders to access information quickly from multiple paths," said Gisele Bennett, director of EOSL and co-principal investigator. "The system is also very robust and easy to update so we can continue to add more chemicals."

Although there are existing software tools for hazmat teams, these programs can cost as much as $2,000 per license. In contrast, the Chemical Companion will be free to the military, law enforcement officers and fire departments.

Besides price, other hallmarks include greater depth of information on chemicals and more detailed medical advice. What's more, the Chemical Companion features a calculator to help responders determine "stay times" -- how long they can remain in a contaminated zone -- based on what type of protective equipment they're wearing.

"Being able to accurately project stay times saves money as well as lives," said Baxter, noting that hazmat suits are expensive -- about $1,000 each. "These suits can only be worn once. If we pull a first responder from a hot zone after 15 minutes when he or she could have remained safely for 45 minutes, that's a considerable cost."

Hazmat equipment also presented a design challenge for GTRI researchers. "The whole concept of user design changes dramatically when you're dealing with this kind of environment," Bennett explained.

Indeed, to get a taste for the conditions that first responders work under, GTRI engineers donned protective gear and participated in training exercises at the Douglas County Fire Department.

"When you're in a hazmat suit, even simple tasks, like picking up a penny, can be very difficult," said Benjamin Medlin, a GTRI software development specialist. "So you can imagine how difficult it might be to use personal digital assistants -- which aren't the easiest devices to use under normal conditions."

To minimize the amount of typing required to use the Chemical Companion, the GTRI team incorporated lots of dropdown menus and automatic fill-ins in the software. The program also features large lettering and shading between columns to make numbers and words easier to read from under bulky hazmat masks.

Beta-testing for the Chemical Companion began in the fall of 2005 with a number of fire departments around the country, including units in New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle and Douglas County, Ga. Researchers expect the Chemical Companion will be ready for distribution later this year.

 


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Georgia Institute of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Georgia Institute of Technology. "'Chemical Companion' Helps First Responders And Hazmat Teams Identify Spilled Chemicals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 April 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060414012455.htm>.
Georgia Institute of Technology. (2006, April 14). 'Chemical Companion' Helps First Responders And Hazmat Teams Identify Spilled Chemicals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060414012455.htm
Georgia Institute of Technology. "'Chemical Companion' Helps First Responders And Hazmat Teams Identify Spilled Chemicals." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060414012455.htm (accessed April 23, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Is North Korea Planning Nuclear Test #4?

Is North Korea Planning Nuclear Test #4?

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) — South Korean officials say North Korea is preparing to conduct another nuclear test, but is Pyongyang just bluffing this time? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
China Falls for 4x4s at Beijing Auto Show

China Falls for 4x4s at Beijing Auto Show

AFP (Apr. 22, 2014) — The urban 4x4 is the latest must-have for Chinese drivers, whose conversion to the cult of the SUV is the talking point of this year's Beijing auto show. Duration: 00:40 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Lytro Introduces 'Illum,' A Professional Light-Field Camera

Lytro Introduces 'Illum,' A Professional Light-Field Camera

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) — The light-field photography engineers at Lytro unveiled their next innovation: a professional DSLR-like camera called "Illum." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
3 Reasons Why Harley Davidson Is Selling Tons of Epic Hogs

3 Reasons Why Harley Davidson Is Selling Tons of Epic Hogs

TheStreet (Apr. 22, 2014) — Sales of motorcycles have continued to ride back from the depths of hell known as the Great Recession. Excluding scooters, sales of motorcycles increased 3% in 2013. In units, however, at 465,000 sold last year, the total remained about 50% below the peak hit in 2007. Industry leader Harley Davidson’s shareholders have benefited both by the industry recovery and positive headlines emanating from the company. Belus Capital Advisors CEO Brian Sozzi takes you beyond the headlines of the motorcycle maker. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins