Friday, January 23, 2015

Scott Air Force Base unveils air transport system for patients of Ebola and other infectious disease

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE • For years, airborne diseases such as bird flu and SARS have threatened a global pandemic. Books have been written and popular movies made on the potential devastation of an outbreak.

But it wasn't until last year when Ebola, a fluid-born disease, trickled out of West Africa into the U.S. and other parts of the world that fears of containing the disease became very real to Americans.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense unveiled a locally developed containment system at Scott Air Force Base to help military personnel safely airlift multiple patients with both airborne and fluid-borne diseases to U.S. hospitals.

Gen. Paul Selva, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command Unit, or USTRANSCOM, said the system will increase the military's continued success at reducing fatalities in the field by better enabling infected military and aide workers to get to appropriate hospitals.

USTRANSCOM, based out of Scott Air Force Base, manages global air, land and sea transportation for the Department of Defense.

“On humanitarian missions you now have the capability to bring back large numbers of people if they get sick,”  said Maj. Gen. Scott Hanson, director of operations for the Air Force's Air Mobility Command.

The Transport Isolation System was put on display Friday inside a hangar at the base for visitors to walk through and ask questions. It was developed by the minority-owned North St. Louis County contractor, Production Products, Inc., at a cost of $7 million — which covers future orders. Designed and tested quickly over four months last summer and fall, the new system can be fully loaded via pallets onto C-17 cargo planes and C-130 airlifters.

Resembling a slightly smaller set of plastic enclosed boxcars, it creates a chain of fully sealed modular treatment rooms measuring about 9 by 7 1/2 feet. Medical staff are able to safely exit and enter the system through a decontamination pod while simultaneously keeping other aircraft personnel, passengers and cargo safe.

Each pod can carry multiple patients and pods can be added on to the system depending on the size of the aircraft.

Crews of technicians, nurses and physicians have already been trained to use the modular system in aeromedical evacuations. A group from the 375th Unit of the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron gathered at the unveiling said they are fully confident in the system to protect them and others from contamination. They noted that intensive instruction was given on the use of medical suits to prevent transmission.

In addition to two of the three test models already constructed, the Department of Defense plans to order 22 more to be placed for deployment at bases in East and West Coast locations in March.

Barry Corona, president of Production Products, likened the modular system to a fully contained ambulance that can be loaded onto a plane.

He said the 38-year-old company was proud of the turn-around on the system which, under less pressing circumstances, normally would take two years to develop.

The private contracting firm traditionally develops structures to provide military personnel safe refuge from outside chemical and biological attacks. The new system turns the technology inside-out to protect the outside world. Corona said the system is critical to Americans and aide workers infected overseas.

“If you don't get them back to hospitals here, they just don't survive,” he said.

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