The heart of the matter
- By Judi Hasson
- Sep 24, 2001
JMAR home page
During the Persian Gulf War, the military learned a harsh lesson about the hazards of not keeping track of essential medical supplies. Many life-saving supplies never made it to the battlefront. Others got there but were not properly labeled and were, therefore, no help for the wounded.
But on Sept. 11, the military got a chance to use a new Web-based system to keep track of its blood supply and other medical necessities.
In the aftermath of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history, the military turned to the Joint Medical Asset Repository, based at Fort Detrick, Md., to track blood donations and other supplies, including medicine and skin tissue for burn victims.
It was the biggest assignment to date for JMAR, a 2-year-old system that tracks military blood supplies worldwide with a Web site linking military facilities. The Web site is password protected, accessible only to authorized individuals.
JMAR was designed to act as a one-stop shop where all medical logistics information is combined so that personnel can check on what is available and what is in the pipeline. No unnecessary calls for blood went out in the aftermath of the disaster, and no donors had to be turned away.
Troy Systems Inc. developed the JMAR program under an $800,000 contract. The company designed the database and tests and secures the system, which is automatically updated every 24 hours with information from military hospitals worldwide listing their medical supplies and shortages.
The local blood-tracking system, known as the Defense Blood Standard System, was developed by Electronic Data Systems Corp. to help military hospitals keep track of their own inventories using a client/server system.
Col. G. Michael Fitzpatrick, director of the Armed Services Blood Program, said the American Red Cross and other civilian organizations have a computer system to monitor their own supplies. But, Fitzpatrick said, "There is no central organization that manages or looks over the blood supplies collected across the United States."
A real-time monitoring network that the Department of Health and Human Services had hoped to launch last month to keep track of local blood supplies through a Web-based system was not operating Sept. 11.
But although JMAR can give the military a "snapshot" of what is available, it is not yet equipped to let the military know when a shipment has actually arrived at its destination, according to Fitzpatrick. In the hours after the attacks, Fitzpatrick said the military sent more than 3,000 units of blood to New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as skin tissue to aid burn victims.
Veridian, an information assurance company, also helped develop JMAR. But the Army asked the company not to provide information about the project in the wake of the terrorist attacks, according to Dennis Gauci, vice president of corporate communications for the company.
"We're going to abide by the Army's request," Gauci said.
Without a system like JMAR, civilian agencies, led by HHS, did not have a centralized way to determine how much blood was available in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
Civilian officials repeatedly contradicted each other about how much blood was available, but by the end of the week, they said there were sufficient supplies for the moment and asked potential blood donors to delay giving blood.
"There has been an overwhelming outpouring of support from Americans throughout the country," said Harvey Klein, president of the American Association of Blood Banks. "Their unselfish acts have created a blood supply that is more than adequate to handle the current demands of the communities affected most."