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Georgia Tech Unveils Next Generation Software System to Aid Pandemic and Biowafare Public Health Mass Dispensing and Emergency Planning

Atlanta (December 19, 2009) — The ongoing threat of the H1N1 flu, future pandemics and biowarfare have given new urgency to pioneering research done by Professor Eva Lee on the rapid design and deployment of logistical strategies to deliver both vaccines and antidotes during medical crises.

Dr. Lee, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control, is the creator of RealOpt, a decision support system enabling real-time strategic and operational planning for large-scale systems modeling and optimization for public health.

Professor Eva Lee
Professor Eva Lee developed RealOpt, the next generation software system to aid pandemic and biowarfare public health mass dispensing and emergency planning

RealOpt is designed to take the guess work out of mass dispensing of medical countermeasures. It provides good estimates of resource needs and operational performance. In numerous anthrax exercises and flu vaccination events conducted in the US, emergency planners were able to determine best facility layout, optimal staffing and throughput, cost-effective operations, and perform strategic and operational planning. The system is easy to use, and scenario analysis is rapid, making dynamic decision analysis instant and scalable.

Michael Radke, Coordinator of the Cities Readiness Initiative at Portland Public Health in Maine, used RealOpt to design the H1N1 flu clinics for the October 24th Sanford vaccination event sponsored by a local hospital, and the November 14th Kennebunk Maine clinic event. "Planning for mass vaccination events can be very complex,“ recalled Mike. "With 10 vaccinators, we were able to process 300 vaccinations an hour (including many being pediatric patients who cried, screamed, ran, and otherwise didn't enjoy the process)." "In one of the clinics, we had to deal with ’no-show‘ vaccinators", Mike continued, "even with such a blip, we were able to achieve 280 vaccinations per hour at peak throughput"."RealOpt provides us with an efficient layout and operations foundation, thus allowing us to focus on the customer satisfaction part. Integrating the two offers us smooth operations that in turn help promoting the public relationship." Mike concluded.

A more mature system since first deployed in 2003, RealOpt is fast becoming an indispensable real-time tool used not only by public health directors and coordinators (more than 1,700), but also by some fire departments, school districts and military for the purpose of setting up vaccine dispensing sites. It has been used for efficient clinic layout design, optimal resource allocation, and disease propagation analysis. Planning has been carried out for anthrax response exercises, actual flu vaccination clinic operations, and for hepatitis vaccination.

The real-time capability of RealOpt means that users can enter different parameters into the system and obtain results very quickly. This rapid computational capability of RealOpt facilitates analysis of “what-if” scenarios, thus serving as an invaluable tool for planning and rapid reconfigurations.

Lee's work has even become an integral part of White House and DHS planning and discussions for preventing and preempting health care threats. In early September, the Department of Health and Human Services invited Dr Lee to the White House for a public meeting to discuss H1N1 vaccine distribution issues and to share her knowledge on vaccination distribution, dispensing and tracking strategies with state, local and tribal public health directors.

H1N1 vaccination event at the Lithia Springs High School in Douglasville on December 5, 2009. Lee and her Georgiia Tech team attended the event and performed time-motion studies and operations evaluation.

Professor Lee also works with White House Biodefense Policy and Medical Preparedness Policy Directors on matters related to emergency response, mass casualty mitigation, medical preparedness and policy, and her work on RealOpt. A new RealOpt module RealOpt-Regional, was unveiled by the Divisions of Strategic National Stockpile at CDC on December 4.

RealOpt-regional is an interactive online software enterprise that features visualization tools and large-scale optimization. The system equips users with spatial understanding of important landmarks in the region, assesses the population densities and demographic makeup of the region, and identifies the most cost-efficient network of dispensing sites and modalities for effective population protection.

Besides specifying the number of necessary healthcare workers, security personnel, and operations personnel, the system displays the demographic mixture of the region to help emergency planners identify appropriate personnel for special needs (e.g., pediatric assistants, translators). Economic analysis can be performed to identify combinations of dispensing modalities (walk-through, drive-through, public, private, mobile, or postal) to accommodate the affected population in a timely and effective manner.

Resource and medical countermeasures usage can be tracked and assessed in real-time for appropriate resupply scheduling. Casualty mitigation is ensured through linkage to healthcare facilities for rapid transfer of sick patients.

"Dr Lee and her team have made planning and implementation of mass dispensing clinics more manageable,” remarked Pam Blackwell, Director for the Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response at Georgia Cobb and Douglas Public Health. “Her work allows calculations of staffing and flow based on mathematical, spatial, and scientific data. Not only do we plan for the events, we can perform prudent changes on-the-fly to best-accommodate the actual ground operations. This is an important asset in an emergency situation.”

Lee’s effort aligns particularly well with the recent news that the Department of Health and Human Services will review in first-quarter 2010 how the nation can more quickly develop and produce medical countermeasures for public health emergencies.

Ultimately, these medical countermeasures must be dispensed rapidly and efficiently to the regional populations in need, underscoring the importance of Dr Lee’s contributions.

For more information contact:
Dr. Eva Lee, Industrial and Systems Engineering
Contact Dr. Eva K Lee

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