Fighting swine flu with simulation training, infrared imaging

The problem with simulation training is that the platform upon which users are trained too often has little in common with actual everyday operations, said an executive with a company recently in Mexico briefing government officials on response management to the swine flu outbreak and other crises.

David Moore, vice-president of market development & sales management with Acron Capability Engineering Inc., who also spent 26 years with the Canadian military, said from experience there can be a level of “ramping up” that’s required when transitioning from training to real-world operations.

In response to that, the Ottawa-based company has developed a customizable software suite, OpSimX, for simulation training and actual mission management from a common platform. “The whole idea behind Acron OpSimX has been to break down the barrier that has traditionally existed between training for operations and missions,” said Moore.

Moore said OpSimX would be targeted at national emergency preparedness organizations that, in the thick of a crisis situation like the swine flu epidemic, must have a common operating picture and the ability to consolidate knowledge across the country and communicate it to those who need it. “So, they are not making decisions based on speculation,” he said.

The training component of OpSimX is based on distributed learning and simulation so that users can benefit from a blend of in-class and computer-based training. “They are no longer tied to a classroom, they can gain access to the learning content and can manage the learning content across multi-media,” said Moore.

Users have the option of undertaking training from different geographical locations, yet engage on the simulation screen as if they are actually in the same scenario. “They are able to see things in real time, have visibility over the theatre of operations, and for everybody to be seeing the same things,” said Moore.

Another technology finding use amid the Swine flu pandemic is infrared imaging. One company, Mississauga, Ont.-based Fluke Corp. develops portable infrared thermal imagers that can create an “image of the heat” in a large group of people, said product manager Colin Plastow.

The technology, which creates a visible light image with a thermal image inside of it, is a quick way of dealing with a crisis like the swine flu pandemic, said Plastow. “Rather than stopping everyone and looking at their temperature, what you do is you’re looking at their skin temperature as they come through and they don’t even have to stop,” Plastow said.

While infrared thermal imagery has been primarily used for industrial purposes and home inspections, Plastow has observed a growing trend in health care. Public agencies are interested in the technology for use in high-traffic places like airports to monitor people with elevated body temperature arriving and leaving the country.

Infrared imaging was in use during the 2003 SARS crisis, but Plastow said users were still then adapting to the technology and learning how to interpret the thermal images. It hasn’t been used to a huge extent till this point, but Plastow believes the technology is sound for the purposes of health care.

While he said infrared imaging can hasten the detection process of people infected with the swine flu, “it’s not an absolute indicator” because of other factors that influence body temperature, like a passenger who may have been exposed to warm weather before entering the building. But if anything, the technology will produce false positives, not false negatives, which can then be followed up with, said Plastow.

For those wary of the technology, Plastow said infrared is non-invasive, explaining that infrared is emitted from people, and that the heat detection devices themselves don’t do the emitting.

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