Over the summer, researchers at UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences planned and carried out a unique disaster exercise in which the primary evacuees were residents of an aged care facility. . A fictional scenario simulated a multi-pronged situation involving an earthquake and a fire taking place during a global pandemic.

The exercise took place as part of the UCI’s CareDEX project, a National Science Foundation-funded initiative dedicated to improving disaster resilience in aging communities. A multidisciplinary team of CareDEX researchers led by Nalini Venkatasubramanian, professor of computer science at UCI, explores the use of smart sensors, Internet of Things technologies and secure data exchange tools to provide a additional assistance in locating and evacuating elderly people from residential care facilities during forest fires, earthquakes and other types of hazards.

Normally teeming with students and faculty during the school year, Donald Bren Hall’s third floor classrooms, offices and common areas were packed with first responders and their gear for the late July exercise, with nursing, medical, pharmacy and public health volunteers. UCI students playing roles in the emergency scenario. Participants in the event came from UCI Bren School, School of Medicine and School of Nursing, Cal Fire, UCI Environmental Health & Safety, Fire Protection Research Foundation , Orange County Fire Authority, Anaheim Emergency Management & Preparedness, Anaheim Fire & Rescue and the Irvine Fire Department.

A command post was established in a large conference room on the sixth floor of Bren Hall. Flat-screen monitors displayed real-time information as exercise progressed, and CareDEX researchers from UCI, Ball State University and ImageCat Inc. provided updates continue. Staff and about 30 residents of the Walnut Village retirement community in Anaheim — which will be the site of the next CareDEX disaster exercise on Oct. 20 — were in attendance and provided substantial feedback during and after the exercise.

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    Lisa Gibbs, clinical professor of geriatric medicine and gerontology at UCI (left) helps evacuate a wheelchair disaster victim, played by medical student Cassandra Smith, during the CareDEX exercise at Donald Bren Hall. Steve Zylius / UCI
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    CareDEX project manager Nalini Venkatasubramanian, professor of computer science at UCI (centre) and Julie Rousseau, project scientist in geriatric medicine and gerontology, ensure that all evacuated actors are safe. Steve Zylius / UCI
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    Orange County firefighters locate disaster victims using CareDEX software on their smartphones. Steve Zylius / UCI
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    First responders tend to injured victim Jack on a stretcher at Bren Hall during the exercise. Steve Zylius / UCI
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    OC Fire staff and UCI doctor Lisa Gibbs (centre) attempt to evacuate a disaster victim, played by second-year medical student Cassandra Smith (left). Steve Zylius / UCI
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    Disaster drill evacuees are escorted down a hallway to an exit on the third floor of UCI’s Donald Bren Hall. Steve Zylius / UCI
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    OC fighter uses CareDEX software to locate evacuees on the third floor of Bren Hall. Steve Zylius / UCI
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    At the start of Exercise CareDEX, Orange County Fire Department personnel move lifesaving equipment into Donald Bren Hall on the UCI campus. Steve Zylius / UCI
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    Orange County firefighters conduct a radio check in preparation for action during the CareDEX Disaster Exercise. Steve Zylius / UCI

“People living in elder care communities are often overlooked in the context of disasters, and there is a lack of a system to provide accurate and actionable information to effectively triage and provide comfort and care in an emergency. says Venkatasubramanian. “With CareDEX, we hope to fill some of these gaps through the development of smart space platforms and tools to enable the rapid collection and exchange of personalized care information between first responders, caregivers in residences for the elderly and the elderly in a safe way. ”

The foundation of the technology used in CareDEX is an Internet of Things data management platform called Testbed for Internet of Things-Based Privacy-Preserving Pervasive Spaces. TIPPERS Principal Investigator Sharad Mehrotra, UCI Chancellor’s Computer Science Professor, and Venkatasubramanian worked together to develop the technology as part of a five-year, $5 million effort funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. TIPPERS was used during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning in the spring of 2020, to help track building occupancy, maintain social distancing, and trace potential virus exposures on the UCI campus.

“We are leveraging COVID dashboards and occupancy technology and enhancing it with personalized insights about individuals to create this live digital twin of an aged care facility as the disaster evolves,” says Mehrotra.

According to Venkatasubramanian, a retirement community like Walnut Village is a good test for the system because each resident already wears a smart pendant that can be networked through the Internet of Things.

“If someone falls or gets injured, they can press their pendant and a signal is sent into an internal system,” she says. “CareDEX can ingest live reports of these injuries and enable the secure sharing of this information among the people who need to know: facility staff, first responders and medical personnel.”

Debbie Infield, executive director of the Walnut Village Retirement Community, sees application for the CareDEX dashboard beyond disaster situations.

“It will be useful in finding missing people,” she said. “At the end of the day, during an evacuation, we will do what we have to do. We will enter every room, every common space, but this will tell us if we have forgotten anyone. It also happens in a non-emergency situation when we can’t find a resident, so I think that’s incredibly helpful.

The developers envision CareDEX enabling the sharing of information about a resident’s medical condition and current mobility status, life support equipment needs, drug allergies and specialty care needs – such as those of people dementia or other memory problems. The system also offers facility information such as floor plans, resident counts and more, all of which can be useful to first responders rescuing people in an emergency.

Dr. Lisa Gibbs, chief of geriatric medicine and gerontology at UCI and co-principal investigator of CareDEX, said that recent events such as Hurricane Ian causing so much destruction in Southwest Florida demonstrate the urgent need for technology for the elderly. “If a disaster strikes communities where many people settle in their retirement years, there are bound to be situations in which these vulnerable people will need additional help,” she says.

From hurricanes in Florida to earthquakes and wildfires in California, older people are disproportionately affected by disasters. “If older people in these places have access to a system like CareDEX that can provide preparedness information, they have a much better chance of surviving in an emergency,” says Venkatasubramanian.

She says the July exercise was a success in that it demonstrated how diverse groups — first responders, academic researchers, students and seniors — can come together in a focused effort to solve a problem, and she s expects future exercises to advance the CareDEX Same Suite approach.

In fact, researchers will have another chance to test the system on October 20 in Walnut Village. A large-scale exercise using the CareDEX platform as part of the Great California ShakeOut will take place there mid-morning. Participants include the City of Anaheim, Anaheim Fire & Rescue, staff and residents of Walnut Village, the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (a national nonprofit for elder care), and staff from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. .