The increasing severity of hurricanes and tornadoes, coupled with raging forest fires and the omnipresent threat of earthquakes, keeps some public safety folks awake at night. But a perfect storm of technology could make tending to the injured after a natural disaster more efficient and and more effective.
Two companies joined forces to put a new twist on the old idea of a MASH unit. MASH is more than the name of a long-running television sitcom. It’s a military acronym that means Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. MASH units were comprised of prefab tents, surgeons, nurses, and a truckload of medical supplies. They were designed to get experienced medical personnel closer to the frontlines so the wounded could be treated sooner and with greater success. Today, add telemedicine and community broadband support, and what you have is MAST.
AMD Global Telemedicine and Jenysis Global partnered to create MAST units to help in a variety of settings: disaster recovery, medically underserved communities, military installations, and remote work environments. These self-sufficient units can handle the medical issues that arise from disasters. The units get an extra punch when they are deployed with community fiber networks and gigabit horsepower.
Using telemedicine to combat natural disasters everywhere
“When we had hurricanes last year, physicians all over the world were willing to donate time and medical services,” recalls Eric Bacon, AMD President. “But how do you capitalize on their services when they don’t have physical or telephone access to the people in need? You can airdrop people and medical supplies into affected areas. However, this can create major logistical headaches for everyone involved.”
The self-contained telehealth clinics, formally called Jenysis Healthcare Solutions, are delivered fully equipped with telemedicine technologies and medical equipment. The units’ completely sustainable infrastructure includes water, solar panels for power, HVAC, satellite communications and ports for broadband connections.
“Officials can deliver by truck or helicopter pop-up pods that you can assemble in 15 minutes to create 400 square-foot structures that are comprised of steel shipping containers durable enough to last 30 years,” says Bacon. “You can bring in physicians either by video or physically. There are hydraulic lifts in case you’re situated in 6 inches of standing water.”
The basic unit is configured to provide medical consultation, education in first aid and other basic medical procedures and local communications. AMD’s Patient Assessment Terminal (PAT) telemedicine system is installed with computer, telemedicine devices, software, and video equipment.
Communities can add to the units with equipment to provide primary care, chronic disease management, pediatric care, and other procedures. Enhancements allow specialists to complete physical examination of patients remotely or in person. Doctors could treat critical patients with a higher level of care. Healthcare and public safety personnel customized the units to address medical specialties that are specific to their operational and patient population needs.
The role of telemedicine and broadband in disaster recovery
Communities need to plan comprehensively for how they will handle catastrophic natural disasters. These disasters start with a dramatic initial event that creates dozens or hundreds of critical care victims. It’s impossible to know where and when tornadoes or other disasters will strike. And it’s hard to predict how long normal systems may not be functional after a disaster strikes.
Disaster planning and communities’ responses can be divided into three categories: 1) the initial impact, 2) the immediate aftershock, and 3) the recovery as infrastructure returns to normal operations.
The first 24-48 hours first responders may only be able to use the most basic of tools. When the big earthquake hit in Haiti and they lost hundreds of thousands people, first responders had to do amputations without any anesthesia. In the first two or three weeks, doctors may have only enough equipment and supplies to do life-saving procedures.
Lauren Bender, Business Development Manager at Foresite Group, says:
When emergency crews are spread thin right after a natural disaster, telehealth services, healthcare and other agencies can use telecom resources to help people until emergency crews can get there. Or they can help 911 prioritize calls based on their severity. A robust, well-engineered broadband network with redundancy has to be in place in order for these activities to work reliably and efficiently.
The North George Network (NGN) was built by two area electric co-ops. “Our network provides broadband and private connections for multiple 911 centers in North Georgia,” says David Little, vice president of network operations. “We also provide broadband connections to over 30 doctors’ offices in North Georgia, multiple hospitals, and provide private highspeed fiber connections to several major medical centers.”
MAST units are designed for self-sufficiency, but connecting them to broadband and electricity can reinforce their value. Community fiber infrastructure, especially those built by electrics co-ops or electric utilities such as Lafayette and Chattanooga, are designed so both data and electricity flow can be immediately re-routed around flooding or other damage to any location throughout the network.
“In 2016, there was a major flood that affected Lafayette and Baton Rouge [Louisiana],” says Larry Huval, director of Lafayette Utilities System (LUS), a publicly owned utility. “An incumbent cable provider indicated in a press release that 18% of their customers had service interruptions. But less than 1% of the LUS customers were affected because fiber systems are very resilient in a natural disaster. Many incumbents’ copper systems can have a hard time surviving this kind of damage, and their repair crews are often slow.”
If a community is lucky, they can get resupplied with medical resources, but they may not have full power in a lot of areas, or it still may be hard to navigate roads. At this point the MAST staff can treat chronic medical situations such as diabetes, debilitating diseases, fracture follow-up care, burns and cuts.
This year, those in the community responsible for disaster recovery should have broadband and telemedicine at the core of their plan.
Craig Settles is a broadband industry analyst, consultant to local governments, and author of Building the Gigabit City. His latest analyst’s report is “Telehealth & Broadband: In Sickness and In Health.”