Sandia helps public health officials with anti-terror 'decision analysis' tool

August 21, 2002

LIVERMORE, Calif. - Imagine the unimaginable: terrorists have released a biological agent throughout the San Francisco Bay Area that threatens local residents. Key decision-makers and government entities - including public health officials, law enforcement, emergency management personnel, elected officials, and media - must quickly decide how to respond. The speed and effectiveness with which they do so may mean life or death for dozens - or thousands - of citizens.

Officials at the local, state, and federal levels are actively addressing this problem, and efforts are well underway to identify effective counter measures to reduce the destructive impact of such a threat. For their part, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in California are developing a sophisticated tool meant to assist government officials and others involved in emergency response. The program, initially designed for public health officials, was produced by Sandia/CA's Weapons of Mass Destruction Decision Analysis Center (WMD-DAC). Researchers are working on enhancements that will expand the program to other key entities.

"If an event like this were to occur, decision-makers would have to act quickly and efficiently, but without the luxury of having all of the information at their fingertips immediately," said Howard Hirano, a manager in Sandia/CA's Exploratory Systems Department. "What we're doing is creating the situation ahead of time so that - by playing through various scenarios - the involved decision-makers can examine various protection and reaction schemes and figure out what works best under different conditions."

Hirano said the program will help answer some of the more pressing questions facing decision-makers, from city officials all the way up to the White House.

"How much of an emphasis should we place on building up stockpiles of anthrax prophylaxis? What portion of our investment should go into developing a stronger information network between physicians? And how important are early warning sensor technologies? These are some of the issues that the WMD-DAC program can help address," said Hirano.

The hub of the program is Sandia's Visualization Design Center (VDC), a "war room" of sorts that allows users to better comprehend complex issues and situations. The program utilizes advanced computers, display systems and software tools that simulate an attack based on real and projected data.

For the Bay Area model, for example, researchers integrate information on symptoms, illnesses, and deaths gathered from local hospitals and coroners' reports in order to accurately simulate and understand the impact of identifying trends as early as possible. Using this and other data such as air measurements or more detailed physicians' reports, response strategies can be examined and tested by decision-makers. "The idea is that a public health director or other key official can take the information they learn from the simulated event and integrate it into their own emergency plans," said Howard.

This simulation capability is the result of a six-month "program definition study" - completed in June 2001 - during which Sandia/CA personnel analyzed new threats and the site's unique capabilities in combating those threats. The researchers determined that a more integrated approach was necessary, one that brought together the perspectives of the many decision-makers as they sought to deal with an event that unfolds over days and weeks, having to make decisions along the way with incomplete information. The result was the WMD-DAC, an interactive, multi-player simulation "facility" that presents information in a format useful to decision-makers with an underlying - but user transparent - core based on the latest technical knowledge.

While Sandia/CA researchers were examining the many dimensions and decisions that are fundamental during a biological attack, the events of September 2001 - and the subsequent anthrax scare - added a sense of urgency to the work. Officials with the Department of Energy and Department of Defense, anticipating the next wave of attacks, sought new strategies to protect citizens, and the current WMD-DAC approach was accelerated.

First piloted against a biological attack of the San Francisco Bay Area, the program is now being adapted to address other threats and applications.

"The simulated scenario has really resonated with the physicians and other decision-makers we've worked with to date," said Hirano. "It's clear they've thought about the problems and decisions they'd be faced with during an attack, and consequently they've helped us to focus on key details and information they will need." Hirano said the overwhelming response has been positive, with several officials commenting on the value of the simulation tool in making their jobs more effective during a terrorist event.

Sandia researchers continue to look at additional capabilities that will allow the simulation to address other dimensions and data. One feature currently in the works, for example, is the ability to track a moving population, an important detail for health officials following the spread of contagious diseases such as smallpox. The ability to detect biological agents or other materials soon after they are released - a Sandia capability already far along in the development and testing stage - will also be an added feature in some applications.
-end-
Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Story and image available at www.sandia.gov/news-center/news-releases/2002/gen-science/antiterror.html

Sandia National Laboratories' World Wide Web home page is located at http://www.sandia.gov.

Sandia news releases, news tips, science photo gallery, and periodicals can be found at the News and Events button.

Sandia National Laboratories
A Department of Energy National Laboratory
Managed and Operated by Sandia Corporation
ALBUQUERQUE, NM LIVERMORE, CA
MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT MS 0165
ALBUQUERQUE, NM 87185-0165
PHONE: (505)
844-8066 FAX: (505) 844-0645

DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

Related Law Enforcement Articles from Brightsurf:

Repeated small blasts put military, law enforcement at risk for brain injury
Military and law-enforcement personnel repeatedly exposed to low-level blasts have significant brain changes - including an increased level of brain injury and inflammation -- compared with a control group, a new study has found.

Enforcement more effective than financial incentives in reducing harmful peat fires?
A new study looking at incentives to reduce globally harmful peatland fires suggests that fear of enforcement and public health concerns influence behaviour more than the promise of financial rewards.

Study: Increased presence of law enforcement officers in schools does not improve safety
A new longitudinal study sought to learn more about the impact of school resource officers (SROs).

Investigation: Problems in clinical trial reporting continue amid lax federal enforcement
Companies, universities, and other institutions that conduct clinical trials are required to record the results of most of them in a federal database, so that doctors and patients can see whether new treatments are safe and effective.

Catch-22 -- stricter border enforcement may increase agent corruption
Analysis of corruption cases among customs officers and Border Patrol agents reveals alarming trends depending on their years of service.

Dog down: Effort helps emergency medical staff treat law enforcement K-9s
Law enforcement K-9s face the same dangers their human handlers confront.

Vanished classmates: The effects of immigration enforcement on school enrollment
Partnerships between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local police departments designed to enforce immigration laws reduced the number of Hispanic students in US public schools in adopting counties by 10 percent after two years.

Investigative report on FDA enforcement under Trump from Science's news department
Despite being one of the nation's most vital watchdogs, compliance and enforcement actions by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have severely declined since the Trump administration took office, according to an investigative report from Charles Piller, a contributing correspondent in the News department at Science.

FSU researcher finds adolescent views of law enforcement can improve over time
A research team, led by Assistant Professor of Criminology Kyle McLean, found that teens' attitudes toward law enforcement tend to improve as they reach adulthood.

Automated speed enforcement doesn't just reduce collisions -- it helps reduce crime
It's widely accepted that automated photo enforcement programs targeting speeding help reduce collisions and promote safe driving.

Read More: Law Enforcement News and Law Enforcement Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.