Free app can help first responders identify chemicals

Free app can help first responders identify chemicals

The National Library of Medicine has created software for handhelds to help first responders when they arrive at a hazardous-material incident, such as a chemical spill.

The Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders (WISER) provides critical information about hazardous substances, including a substance’s physical characteristics, any related health data, and containment and suppression information.

WISER versions for handheld systems that run Palm OS and Pocket PC are available as free downloads. The National Institutes of Health agency plans to make a desktop PC version available this spring and is developing a Web version.

To further personalize the application, users can specify their response role, such as hazmat specialist or emergency medical specialist. WISER then organizes information based on its relevance to the responder.

“First responders in general, and Hazmat units in particular, must make decisions quickly in handling hazardous-materials incidents,” said Dr. Jack Snyder, the library’s associate director for specialized information services. WISER provides accurate information about hazardous substances, available emergency resources and surrounding environmental conditions to help save lives and minimize the environmental impact, he said.

Hazmat incidents are increasing, Snyder said, citing statistics from the Coast Guard’s National Response Center. There were about 34,000 incidents reported last year.

WISER can help identify an unknown substance by matching data inputted by a responder about a substance’s physical properties and victims’ symptoms against a database of chemical substances. The app will create a list of candidate chemicals.

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