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Border Patrol Tests Tech to Prevent Heat-Related Illness

First responders can suffer heat-related issues that can be long term and include chronic cardiovascular or pulmonary disease and chronic kidney disease that can be born of continuous exposure to the heat.

Shutterstock/Rosemarie Mosteller
Heat is increasingly becoming recognized as a serious health issue for people working outdoors, including first responders like the United States Border Patrol, which recently sought to get a handle on excessive heat-related illnesses.

Border Patrol agents are often working in the desert in very hot conditions where it’s difficult to take the necessary precautions before a situation becomes serious. The agency sought help and is now testing heat-monitoring technology that informs the agent that his core temperature is getting too hot and that they need to take action before becoming ill.

“We were approached by the Border Patrol because their agents were experiencing a lot of heat distress, a lot of heat stroke in a lot of obviously very hot conditions along the border,” said Melissa Oh, managing director for the Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program.

The Innovation Program was developed to bridge the gap between federal agencies like Border Patrol and startups and small businesses that have developed a useful product.

That’s where Kenzen and its wearable heat technology came into play and was introduced to the Border Patrol.

Kenzen's device to measure core body temperature is designed to be worn on the arm.
The agents wear the Kenzen device on an arm, where it monitors their core body temperature while taking into account some personal history of the agent, such as whether medications or other health-related issues make them more vulnerable to heat.

“There are so many factors that affect your body’s ability to thermoregulate,” said Kenzen CEO Kyle Hubregtse. “With heat, it’s difficult to detect it ahead of time. So many times when we’re feeling symptoms, we’ve often entered a pretty dangerous area. That’s what we’re trying to prevent with the technology. If you understand core temperature, you can alert the individual to take certain practices or precautions, like hydrating, removing excess clothing or finding shade.”

As it relates to first responders, heat-related issues can be long term and include chronic cardiovascular or pulmonary disease and chronic kidney disease that can be born of continuous exposure to the heat. Those chronic conditions can then exacerbate the problem, making the individual even more vulnerable to heat.

Hubregtse explained that each person has a unique algorithm that will predict core temperature. The technology, which will already have a profile of the person, will use heart rate, skin temperature, skin humidity, sweat activity and motion, as well as individual factors such as an illness, to predict when the individual will be approaching danger and warn that user.

The technology also comes with dashboards for supervisors to monitor.

“With our technology, we’re giving alerts or vibrations from the device so the worker feels it on their arm. You know you’ve reached a threshold,” Hubregtse said. “We do it by predicting core body temperature. That’s really what we understand to be the only way to prevent heat-related illness.”

At that point the agency’s protocols or solutions come into play. “With first responders, you don’t always have the ability to stop work,” Hubregtse acknowledged. “We know that and [the protocol] varies on how you implement a solution around this physiological monitoring. It has to be within the confines of the job and the risk profile of the job and the risk profile of the company.”