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MAST Units Offer 21st-Century Response to Disasters

Using a unit as a base station, roving mobile medical personnel could provide assistance in homes or community facilities.

When many people hear the word “MASH” they think of the long-running TV show. M*A*S*H is a Korean and Vietnam War-era acronym for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. A perfect storm of technologies now transform the M*A*S*H concept into 21st-century natural disaster recovery magic.

MASH units were composed of prefab tents, medical supplies, surgeons, nurses and Cpl. “Radar” O’Riley. This got experienced medical personnel closer to the front so they could treat the wounded sooner and with greater success. Jump to 2018, add telemedicine and community broadband support, and you have MAST — Mobile Area Strategic Tele-hospital.

AMD Global Telemedicine and Jenysis Global partnered to offer these MAST units to aid disaster recovery, medically underserved communities, and military sites. The units are powerful and self-sufficient, while community fiber networks often are the most resilient telecom infrastructure, thus enhancing the units’ performance. Officials can deliver these pop-up pods by truck or helicopter and assemble them in a few minutes to create 400-square-foot structures made of durable steel shipping containers.

The increasing severity of hurricanes, floods and forest fires keep some public safety officials and first responders on edge. Disaster can strike without warning, lay waste to critical infrastructure such as power lines and roads, cause many injuries and deaths, and inhibit health-care delivery for weeks.

Physicians from everywhere want to help, but it’s difficult to capitalize on their services when roads are inaccessible and air travel is restricted by weather. One solution might be to airdrop people, medical supplies and equipment into the affected area, but supporting all of them can lead to logistical nightmares.

Good planning yields excellent disaster recovery

Broadband staff, disaster recovery teams, health-care personnel and others need to create and rehearse a game plan as well as a backup plan, especially where there is a level of predictability to the disasters communities face. It starts with how community broadband infrastructures are designed.

The North George Network (NGN) was built by two area co-ops. Their Core Point-of-Presence (CPOP) facilities house routers, switches and fiber-optic equipment that serve several counties, and all CPOPs have generators that can run for weeks without power.

David Little, vice president of Network Operations for NGN, says, “Service Points-of-Presence (SPOPS), which are the cabinets installed intermittently on sidewalks and roadsides, connect back to a CPOP and have backup batteries that can generally last six to eight hours without power. NGN also can connect generator if power outages last longer then eight hours.”

Lafayette Utilities System (LUS) in Louisiana, a city-owned utility, put its POP on a hill that is historically safe from flood damage. Its foresight has served it well over the years.

In 2016, a major flood effected Lafayette and Baton Rouge. Terry Huval, director of LUS, recalls that an incumbent cable provider issued a press release stating that 18 percent of its customers had service interruptions. “But less than 1 percent of LUS’ customers were affected because fiber systems are very resilient in a natural disaster. Many incumbents’ copper systems can have a hard time surviving this kind of damage, and their repair crews are often slow.”

Public electric utilities such as Lafayette and Chattanooga and electric co-ops usually design their fiber networks so both data and electricity flow can be re-routed immediately around flooding or other damage anywhere throughout the network. This design helps telemedicine and emergency medical care be delivered soon after a disaster hits.

Telemedicine to the rescue

When a natural disaster hits, the initial event can create dozens or hundreds of critical care victims. It’s difficult to determine when or where that will be so medical resources need to be strategically placed ahead of time. Floods and hurricanes might give communities some time to prepare. Severe earthquakes and tornadoes often come without warning.

Also, it’s hard to predict the extensiveness of disasters or the duration of the aftereffects. “Puerto Rico is an example where you had massive damage to various infrastructures,” says Eric Bacon, president of AMD. “You had power out for weeks. Highways and roads were destroyed. There were nursing homes and hospitals damaged, as well as many injured people.”

Lauren Bender, business development manager at Foresite Group, says, “When emergency crews are spread thin right after a natural disaster, telehealth services, health-care and other agencies can activate to help people until emergency crews can get there. Or help 911 prioritize calls based on their severity.”

In the first 24 to 48 hours, first responders often are left with the most basic of tools and there might not be anesthesia available. In the first two or three weeks, doctors may have only enough equipment and supplies to do life-saving procedures.

Little says, “NGN provides broadband and private connections for multiple 911 centers in North. We also provide broadband connections to over 30 doctors’ offices in north Georgia, multiple hospitals, and provide private high-speed fiber connections to several major medical centers.”

The MAST unit, formally called Jenysis Healthcare Solutions, is configured to provide medical consultation, first aid education and local communications. AMD’s Patient Assessment Terminal (PAT) telemedicine system is installed with a computer, telemedicine devices, software and video equipment.

Enhancements to the units enable primary care, chronic disease management, pediatric care and other procedures. Specialists can do complete physical exams of patients remotely or in person.

Doctors could treat critical patients with a higher level of care. Additional customizations address medical specialties that are specific to operational and patient population needs. Using the unit as a base station, roving teams of mobile medical personnel could provide assistance in homes or community facilities. Telemedicine backpacks, such as the swyMed DOT Mini, can equip teams with software, audio and video capabilities, 4G Internet access, digital stethoscopes, cameras and ultrasound, battery packs and antennas.

Radar would be pleased with the advancements in disaster recovery planning brought about by telemedicine and community broadband.

Craig Settles is a broadband industry analyst, a consultant to local governments and author of Building the Gigabit City.


Craig Settles assists cities and co-ops with business planning for broadband and telehealth. He has surveyed economic development professionals nationwide about the impact of telehealth and community broadband, and offers guidance for federal grant proposals for broadband, telehealth, or other digital projects.