Mounting an effective response in the chaos after a terrorist attack requires information coordination, mobilization of resources, and extensive logisticsall right up Dr. Hugh Devine’s alley. As director of the Geographic Information Science (GIS) Program at NC State, Devine trains students in the College of Natural Resources to manage wildfire fighting efforts. “Rapid response to terrorism has incredible overlay with what we do in incident mapping for forest fires,” he says.
Devine calls tasks like moving personnel and equipment, establishing a command center and evacuating people from imperiled areas “a spatial problem” involving the dispersal of both population and crisis points. GIS uses detailed digital maps, satellite global positioning systems, and computer models to determine where to dispatch first responders, open shelters for evacuees, and set up lines of defense to contain the blaze. Mobile command posts are set up on the front lines for GIS personnel to help direct emergency response efforts, and wireless systems transmit and receive datasystems Devine notes weren’t available when first responders were confronted with the attacks on the World Trade Center. “We’re using 9/11 as a case study for incident planning and management,” he says.
GIS mapping is also a vital component to the food safety response teams being assembled by Dr. Jay Levine under a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. Levine, an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), is leading a network of 47 researchers at 17 universities nationwide who will assist local and state officials in handling cases of agricultural bioterrorism. “We are trying to improve preparedness by determining our vulnerabilities to foreign pathogens,” he says.
Levine’s CVM colleague Dr. Craig Altier is heading up the microbial detection portion of the program, trying to find the best DNA fingerprinting technique to identify various bacteria. “We’re marrying epidemiology and bacteriology,” Altier says, “to help investigators trace an outbreak back to its origin and determine whether separate incidents are related.”
Response teams will be comparable to those the National Transportation Safety Board uses to examine airplane crashes. In the aftermath of an incident, members will analyze outbreaks to determine what happened and how to prevent a recurrence. But Levine says they also provide additional research resources. “If something is truly a major public health disaster, state and local agencies will quickly be overwhelmed,” he says. “NC State and the other members of our network have the labs and expertise to mobilize a lot of people to work on these problems.”
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