High-Tech Training Vehicle Aids Public Health, Emergency Management Education

Penn State’s LionReach training vehicle uses futuristic mannequins and the latest technology to provide education and aid real-world response.

by / April 2, 2010
Penn State College of Medicine

From the outside, LionReach may look like a typical 53-foot trailer, but the inside isn’t a standard training vehicle: It features state-of-the-art technology for training hospital staff and other emergency preparedness personnel. The Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center purchased LionReach with a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As part of the grant, the vehicle was outfitted with tech-savvy training tools.

“The idea was to have a vehicle that we could take from place to place, that we could use to train people on multiple things,” said Nancy Flint, the LionReach program coordinator.

The trailer features Laerdal mannequins in adult, pediatric and newborn sizes to facilitate medical training. “These things are so sophisticated that they breathe, talk, sweat — we can get fluids to come out of just about any portion of them — and they can be programmed,” Flint said. The mannequins can be remotely controlled by an instructor and provide a safe environment for people to practice without training on real patients.

Penn State College of Medicine

Photo: A woman trains on a Laerdal mannequin. Courtesy of the Penn State College of Medicine.

LionReach also has advanced airway heads that let trainees identify alternate ways of airway management on adult- and pediatric-sized mannequins.

Three computer-based preparedness simulations were developed with the grant: pandemic flu, blast mass casualty and large-scale hospital evacuation. The computers are linked through an Ethernet wireless network, which allows for complex decision-making scenarios. “Everybody’s mutual decisions kind of cascade down and may affect each other,” Flint said. “So we’re able to teach some of the hospitals to understand that their decisions are sometimes not right or wrong, but there are trade-offs.”

Video and audio of the training seminars can be recorded for detailed debriefings with the trainees: Instructors can show students how they reacted to a situation and provide additional insight. “If you want to go back and debrief with your students, you can ask, ‘Why did you do this?’ And they say, 'Wow, I didn’t know I did that,’” she said.

The vehicle also is outfitted to teach about communication technology, such as 800 MHz radios and switching talkgroups. Flint said Pennsylvania put radios in LionReach so the state can use the vehicle to train rescue personnel to use the equipment. The trailer also has satellites, webcams and video-conferencing equipment.

Real-Life Emergency Aid

The medical center is looking at developing agreements with government agencies to use LionReach as an incident command center during an emergency. “If there’s something bad that happens, they [could] give us a call, then we can take this vehicle out and set it up,” Flint said.

Penn State College of Medicine

Photo: LionReach features state-of-the-art technology for training hospital staff and other emergency preparedness personnel. Courtesy of the Penn State College of Medicine.

LionReach was exhibited at a Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency conference, and Flint said it was interesting to hear ideas that different groups had about how they could use the trailer. “That’s the beauty of it; they know what needs they have, and the vehicle is flexible enough that we can come in and fill those gaps for them,” she said.

Although the vehicle isn’t licensed for patient care, it helped the university medical center manage patients during the H1N1 outbreak. Flint said after the governor declared H1N1 a pandemic, LionReach was deployed to aid triaging. It was staged outside of the emergency department, and staff registered patients and determined if they needed to be treated in the emergency room.

Elaine Pittman Former Managing Editor

Elaine Pittman worked for Emergency Management from 2008 to 2017.