SPARCCS: A Smartphone-based System to Support Information Sharing for Medical Triage Tasking for Mass Casualty / Humanitarian Operations


First responders who participate in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations involving mass casualty have many special requirements which are not common in normal civilian operations. These include the ability to get going with their mission with minimal infrastructure, tight-loop and frequent communication, light-weight equipment, ability to scale-up the team when needed, and finally, the longest-running and lightest power source for their equipment. The dramatic increase in the compute power and miniaturization of electronic components has led to small, light-weight, battery-powered smartphones and tablets which can perform a significant amount of computing for the first responders. At the Naval Postgraduate School we have been doing research in this domain for over 10 years. Our latest research project, called SPARCCS, harnesses the power of COTS (commercial off the shelf) smartphones/tablets in conjunction with cloud computing to enable rapid capture and sharing of rich content (images, video and text) among the team members as well with command post.

Our focus is to enable medics in the field to rapidly and easily capture and annotate rich content and share it with one another to provide situational awareness, request for assistance pertaining to their case on hand, and plan for resources. We would like to enable distributed response to large scale emergencies where several teams of medics have to collaborate with one another to share limited resources.

The key first responder requirements that we are focused on are as follows:

  1. Quick Set-Up. A key requirement of first responders, especially immediately after a disaster has struck, is to get going with their mission at the fastest speed possible. This means little time to set-up. We plan to work with COTS smartphones which can be easily provisioned with the mission information. The process of creating missions to address has to be simple so that the administrators can create missions and provision as many devices as are needed for the mission rapidly and easily.

  2. Tight-loop, Frequent Communication. An important task of first responders is to convey the ground reality to their co-workers and the control room. This needs to be done frequently and in real-time but without taking too much of their time and attention lest it start affecting their mission performance. To support this requirement, our smartphones will produce images, videos and text which is XML-tagged automatically on capture. As the content is produced, it can be automatically shared within the team, if needed through the team lead’s system. A sync between the team lead’s system and the cloud server makes this information available to remote observers and planners.

  3. Light-Weight Equipment. Due to the nature of their work, first responders’ equipment needs to be as light as possible. We plan to use state-of-the-art smartphones and tablets which are light-weight and small but still provide the compute, networking, storage and content-capture power that is so critical to the mission success.

  4. Scale-up as Team/Requirements Grow. Our system can easily and rapidly be configured to start supporting a mission as the need arises. As the mission evolves, additional gear can be added to the configuration to support the expanded team.

  5. Battery. Due to their short charge-life and weight, batteries that operate the smartphones are an important issue. Often first responders have to carry spare batteries, which increase the weight they have to carry. We plan to address this problem by implementing smart energy management techniques.

Our pilot focus will be to engineer and test a system initially in field experiments and then field it in real-life triage operations. We would like to work closely with medics through the duration of the project to perfect the system for their needs.

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