Mass-casualty simulator aims to make disaster planning more preciseThe Electronic Mass Casualty Assessment & Planning Scenarios system, or EMCAPS, predicts the mass casualty impact on individual hospitals
By Doug Page
The number and types of mass casualties a hospital might expect from a terror incident is usually just supposition, handicapping planners with inexact estimates. A new version of a free, Web-based simulation tool developed at Johns Hopkins University removes much of this guesswork from disaster-planning equations.
The system, called Electronic Mass Casualty Assessment & Planning Scenarios, or EMCAPS, predicts the mass casualty impact on individual hospitals of events such as a dirty bomb, flu pandemic, floods or plane crashes by considering such variables as numbers of victims, types of injuries, germ-carrying wind patterns, available medical resources, bacterial incubation periods and bomb size.
"One of the challenges hospital emergency planners face is no one can provide any kind of reasonable projections on the number of people a hospital might expect to see from a given incident," said lead investigator James Scheulen, head of Johns Hopkins' Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response.
Scheulen told Homeland1 he bristles during tabletop simulations of disaster events when someone sets the casualty number at 45,000 for, say, a bomb going off in Baltimore's Camden Yards during an Orioles game.
"First, the Orioles aren't good enough to draw 45,000 people. Second, if a bomb big enough to harm 45,000 people got that close to Camden Yards, heaven help us all," he said. "Let's be realistic. Would it be 100? 200? 1,000?"
No one could say, so EMCAPS was conceived out of this frustration. Without credible estimates, it's almost impossible for emergency managers to calculate how many hospital beds, ambulances and personnel and how much equipment might be needed in a disaster. Scheulen said EMCAPS mitigates this problem by providing first responders with an estimate rooted in scientific facts.
The current version of EMCAPS was released in 2005 and is available as a free download. The more sophisticated Version 2 is pending release this summer. Scheulen said the new version concentrates on allowing better inputs to get better outputs.
"We're doing more on explosive devices, because it's possible that someone will blow themselves up on a train or bus, so we're putting those more realistic scenarios into play," he said.
Version 2 expands its scenario library, which will include earthquakes and hurricanes, so emergency managers can plan for natural disasters as well as terrorist attacks.
Right now, EMCAPS allows emergency planners to customize nine scenarios for urban or rural geographic areas and then estimate the number of likely casualties.
For instance, for a dirty-bomb explosion in an area with one person every 100 square feet, EMCAPS estimates the casualty numbers would be 137 fatalities, 241 trauma injuries, 1,183 urgent injuries, 443 ambulatory injuries, one radiological poisoning requiring hospitalization, 44 radiological poisonings needing non-critical treatment, and six radiological poisonings that could be self-medicated.