Software Enables First Responders to Help Those With Special Needs
First responders will be able to better prepare individuals with special needs thanks to new open-source software developed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Lab. The Special Population Planner software is an extension to commercial ArcView Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software, and provides a database for creating a list of individuals with special needs throughout a given emergency planning area. Individuals with special needs include the physically, mentally, and medically disabled; those without transportation; and latchkey children.
The project began in 1998 with funding from the U.S. Army under the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program for the seven areas across the country where chemical weapons are stored. These areas have emergency evacuation plans for neighboring residents, and Argonne researchers were asked to gather data and develop software to help identify and plan for individuals with special needs. The study covered most of a six-county area with 115,000 households and 275,000 residents, of whom about 9 percent reported special needs.
Said Ed Tanzman, project lead for Argonne's Decision and Information Sciences Division, "Hurricane Katrina highlighted the national problem of emergency planning for persons with special needs, when a number of residents -- many disabled persons or their caregivers -- were trapped for days at the Superdome because of evacuation problems." The Army recognized a need to make the software available to all emergency planners. Using the software, emergency planners for any area can begin building a database of persons with special needs and developing emergency response or evacuation plans to accommodate them.