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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

WIISARD to the Rescue

Finding better ways to communicate in a disaster.

Hurricane Katrina. The Southeast Asian tsunami. Now the killer earthquake in Haiti. In each case, the response to a natural disaster was further complicated because thecommunications infrastructure was seriously damaged or completely destroyed.

Now UC San Diego researchers at Calit2 are searching for better ways to help emergency officials and first responders talk to each other and share data in the wake of disaster.

“As the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti has demonstrated so starkly, communication is a critical ingredient in any medical response to a disaster,” says William Griswold, a UCSD computer science professor. 

Griswold leads the two-year, $3 million project that builds on Calit2’s previous Wireless Internet Information System for Medical Response in Disasters (WIISARD). The original 2004-08 project ­developed devices and software for use by first responders and command-center personnel. The improved WIISARD focuses on “self-scaling” systems so that communications and computing resources can scale up quickly and efficiently—no matter how big the disaster.   

The new project brings together an interdisciplinary team of faculty from computer science, cognitive science, electrical engineering and emergency medicine. The team will participate in countywide disaster drills starting this month with Theodore Chan, M.D., a professor of clinical medicine, as the project’s lead medical expert.

Colleen Buono, M.D., a UCSD emergency-room physician who flew to Haiti in mid-January as part of the International Relief Teams response to the disaster, will coordinate the integration of new WIISARD technologies into the delivery of clinical care during the drills.

Among new technologies the researchers expect to test: mobile phones equipped with custom software for mass-casualty tracking; Bluetooth barcode scanners that allow responders to scan a patient’s paper triage tag to bring up their on-site medical record; radio-frequency identification tags to help track responders at the disaster site; and Grapevine, a “gossip” based software protocol that allows communication even if some network connections are not functioning.

óDoug Ramsey