Pandemic Preparedness: The Driver for Most Suppliers

Over the last year, the nation’s domestic-preparedness community has been increasing and expanding its focus on pandemic planning and preparedness.  Local, state, and federal officials generally agree that an all-hazards approach is best, both in terms of organization and resource management. Ideally, political jurisdictions and procurement authorities leverage what they spend with regard to pandemic preparedness to meet not only bio-terrorist response requirements but also those addressing the whole range of CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive) threats.   

Many private-sector suppliers are following suit and see the specific bio-preparedness requirement as expanding compared to other CBRNE requirements, albeit with different emphases. Base-X Inc., for example, a supplier of emergency-response infrastructure systems for homeland security and disaster planning, includes bio-preparedness in any mass-casualty response system, says Brian Dearing, the Base-X vice president for business development and government relations.  “Bio-preparedness and public safety go hand-in-hand,” he said. DuPont is another company emphasizing bio-preparedness rather than pandemic preparedness – but without neglecting the latter.  

The company has had a global team in place for 18 months to study the impact that a pandemic would have on its operations and to create a viable response and preparedness plan.  “DuPont has expanded its core product offering to help protect first responders and first receivers against the emerging threat of pandemics,” says Jeff Jung, DuPont’s North American marketing manager for government.  “We put our knowledge and science to work to help prevent and contain the spread of diseases through our disinfectants and protective-apparel offerings.”   DuPont is now broadly offering its easy-to-use DuPont Biosecurity Kits to help reduce the exposure to and spread of viruses both on commercial farms and at worksites. 

Among the primary “tools” in the kits are RelyOn™ (to help protect against bloodborne pathogens and other viruses), Tyvek® dry particulate (for splash protection), and Tychem® chemical protective garments.  “DuPont Biosecurity Kits,” says Jung, “ … [also] will be distributed to our employees in the event of a pandemic, and are now available commercially.” Traditional chemical and industrial detector designers and manufacturers such as PROENGIN Inc. also see the specific bio-preparedness requirement expanding relative to other CBRNE requirements.  PROENGIN is the provider of the Biological Alarm Monitor (MAB), developed for use as a fixed bio-detector for screening at airports, secure facilities, and similar uses.  

The firm has applied a chemical-detection technology, flame-emission spectrophotometry, to its bio-detection systems to detect the chemical constituents of a biological agent present in the air.  “Flame spectrophotometry,” says Mark Reuther, PROENGIN general manager, “is a long-term, proven technology in detecting basic elements in real time. Combined with the known ratios of given base elements of known biological-warfare organisms, flame spectrophotometry greatly reduces the number of false alarms caused by current technology.” PROENGIN’s MAB is designed for continuous operation, so sounds an immediate alarm as soon as a biological- or aerosol-type of change occurs in the atmospheric “background noise.”  

Simply stated, the MAB eliminates the false-positive detections caused by dust, industrial pollution, and/or pollens.  “Dust, industrial pollution, and pollens,” says Reuther, “either are outside of the MAB’s detection parameters, two to ten microns, or emit light signatures far greater than [those emitted by] known biological-warfare organisms and thus eliminated from the detection scenario. “Agents such as anthrax or ricin,” he continued, “introduced into an environment such as ATL [Atlanta International Airport] or the international headquarters of AIG [American International Group Inc., the insurance and financial services company], can be detected by placing MABs in or around the general screening area for [the detection of] weapons and explosives, or within the environmental system, whether AC [air conditioning] or heat.  The exception at this time would be a virus such as smallpox below the current detection size.” PROENGIN is currently working on short-term goals for ification and long-term goals toentify known biological organisms in real time, says Reuther. “A combined biological-chemical-toxological industrial material detection system based on PROENGIN’s current technology is the ultimate goal,” he said.   

DuPont’s numerous products were designed to help protect firefighters, law-enforcement and hazmat personnel, emergency medical workers, and members of the U.S. military. Among the more prominent of those products, in addition to those mentioned earlier, are Kevlar® brand fiber (designed for use in bullet-resistant vests and firefighter turnout gear) and Nomex® brand fiber (also used in the firefighter turnout gear). 

DuPont has a number of other new technologies for chem/bio protection in the pipeline that soon will be available to provide additional protection for homeland-security workers. “We’ve recently developed a garment called Tychem® ThermoPro,” says DuPont’s Jeff Jung, “for use by hazmat and law-enforcement personnel that, for the first time, combines chemical and biological protection with flash-fire protection. We’re also creating technologies that combine lightweight, breathable chem/bio protection to make first responders more comfortable and effective in their jobs.” The mass-casualty aspect of bio-preparedness is what the providers of emergency-shelter systems – Base-X and TVI, for example – are addressing, and requirements in this area are evolving rapidly.  Base-X has responded by rolling out new and/or improved systems every three months or so.  

“We are working diligently to continue development on our Air Base-X shelters,” says Mike Stolarz, manager of sales, “creating complexing options and modular functionality on these advanced inflatable structures to our existing [line of] folding-frame structures.” Base-X works closely with solution providers to answer the command-and-control interoperability questions raised by various agencies concerned – because of the problems encountered during the 9/11 and Katrina disasters – about their ability to communicate with one another during major incidents. “Those agencies,” says Steve Douglas, the Base-X director for emergency response, “need to be able to access data [and] applications, communicate in real time from the field with each other, and centralize authority to a base of operations with a minimum of infrastructure and cost.   

“In addition,” he continued, “we are constantly exploring new applications as well for our facilities such as mobile morgue facilities, rest and recovery facilities for emergency responders, and similar products. What we may see over time is not necessarily an expansion of requirements,” Douglas said, “but a development of specific protocols and perhaps a standardization of equipment or systems to deliver those solutions. I think the key is to anticipate what the situation may be so the protocol may be developed before it has to be implemented.”   

Base-X works through local agencies to run drills and to sponsor clinics and demonstrations designed to “beef up” preparedness by providing some direct experience for potential users. “We then partner in the sharing of that information in educational seminars, clinics, and conferences as the delivery method of those lessons learned,” Douglas said. “All of our applications – emergency operations centers, medical shelters/hospital surge capacity, isolation systems, decontamination systems, and mobility/support systems – are relevant to bio-preparedness,” says sales manager Mike Stolarz, “but we currently see a tremendous interest from customers for our medical surge facilities.” 

Base-X expeditionary facilities have applications beyond those specifically focused on bio-preparedness solutions. Because its shelters are multi-application by design, they not only will provide the capacity needed to cope with a major incident but also can double to meet a community’s immediate needs – e.g., for rural healthcare clinics or  STiP (Stabilization and Treatment in Place) facilities used for mass gatherings. Base-X works directly with its customers to design a structure or complex suitable to meet the specific needs of each customer, and also can help in acquiring the equipment needed for use in a particular structure, thus serving as a “one-stop-shop” business model.  “We look for opportunities,” says Douglas, “to provide … [a] complete turn-key solution wherever possible.” The TVI Corporation offers quick and easy-to-deploy, mobile, flexible configuration options – i.e., systems that incorporate features meeting some of the most critical requirementsentified by healthcare emergency preparedness professionals for their surge hospital systems. 

The overall sense of urgency for the design and production of such systems has increased over the last year – partly because of the federal government’s directive to the healthcare community to better prepare their hospitals to effectively respond to major public health emergencies. Whether it be a natural disaster, therefore, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a terrorist event, or the potential for a major flu pandemic, health care providers are aggressively pursuing solutions that can provide the alternative medical facilities to handle the temporary patient surge situation likely.  

It is estimated that, should a pandemic occur, thousands of people will self-refer themselves to their local hospitals, many of which are usually at or near their bed capacity on an everyday basis. There are several solutions to this problem.  Each community has to evaluate its own situation, of course, to determine what option or options would work best for that community’s own environment. 

One solution is utilizing current public facilities already in place – e.g., schools, sports arenas, and libraries. However, using that solution could be very disruptive to the community in the long term, and might create a number of other problems as the community begins to heal – contamination of the facilities and/or excessive wear and tear on them are the most obvious of those problems.   

Another and somewhat similar approach would be to “surge in place,” which means, for practical purposes, expanding an already functional hospital facility to manage the surge.  Unfortunately, as was demonstrated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, these facilities themselves may have been damaged or contaminated by the event. A third possible solution, which is growing in popularity within the healthcare community, is using rapid-deploy “portable” facilities, such as TVI Corporation’s Mobile Surge Hospital Systems, which are not only simple to deploy but also very flexible in their configuration. As the market leader in providing rapid-deploy shelters for many other purposes – including decontamination and command-and-control operations – to first receivers as well as first responders, it was only natural that TVI turned its attention and expertise to the design and production of mobile hospital systems as well. 

The result was the company’s Mobile Surge Hospital System, a turn-key solution offering pneumatic and articulating shelter systems that, when deployed, serve as a fully functioning medical facility complete with power, power-distribution, HVAC, negative pressure isolation/filtration, floors, lighting, beds, and hospital furniture, as well as medical supplies and equipment. Each 20-bed module can be complexed together in a variety of configurations for use to meet a multitude of requirements. A major additional advantage provided by use of these modules is that they deploy easily, with four people, in a matter of minutes. 

For planning as well as operational purposes, this means that the systems can be deployed almost anywhere, anytime. Moreover, when the event is over, the systems can be packed up, stored, and kept ready for the next event. Whether homeland security professionals are talking personal protection, sensors or surge capacity, the mantra is all-hazards, both with respect to bio-preparedness and CBRNE preparedness generally.  So, companies need to be aware that customers will want to leverage their bio-preparedness resources across the full spectrum of contingency applications – from pandemics to bioterrorism.

John F. Morton

John F. Morton is the Strategic Advisor for DomPrep. He is also the Homeland Security Team Lead for the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR). A member of the DomPrep team since its founding, he has served as managing editor for writer assignments and interviewer for scores of DomPrep audio interviews.

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