‘Protection Guide' to Help Medical Emergency Crews Inside Buildings

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers are currently developing a "Building Occupant Protection Guide" to provide information to emergency crews in the case of an attack involving chemical or biological agents.

Targeted for use in the training of police and fire personnel, the guide is an informational booklet that explains how contamination spreads through a building so that the crews can minimize the impact of the contaminant and possible exposures.

Being developed by a team headed by principle investigators Ashok Gadgil and Rich Sextro, work started over a year ago as a relatively low-profile project and was made more relevant by Sept. 11 and the subsequent anthrax mailings.

The team received a call from the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training-an agency that trains police officer trainers-who told the Berkeley Lab that it needed the information Gadgil's team was working on.

According to Phillip Price, a Berkeley Lab physicist, and a member of the team, incident commanders or "first responders" just have to decide without any formal training or the knowledge necessary.

Many emergency departments have hazardous materials teams, but they are only trained recognize and treat people who have been affected by such substances, he said.

"They don't have a whole lot of understanding about how the building operation affects what's happening," said Price.

Most commercial buildings and houses have an air recirculation system that reconditions air inside a building.

While more energy efficient, this also makes first response steps crucial in the case of attack.

"There is a difference between someone who is trained to handle an accidental release in a building designed to handle it like a laboratory, and when the delivery has been designed by a malicious human agent," said David Lorenzetti, a mechanical engineer at the Berkeley Lab.

The goal was to generate this kind of useful information and make it available and simple enough so that it is accessible to fire and police responders, Price said.

The information and advice prepared by the Berkeley Lab are based on extensive simulations involving computational fluid dynamics and multi-zone models.

Fluid dynamics are used to predict where individual packets of air go and multi-zone models, involves the breaking up of buildings into individual zones.

Each zone is described with specific characteristics, such as window leakage parameters, and then knitted together with the various other zones in the building to compute air flow and pollutant

transport using simple physics.

Diagrams and captions show how contaminated air travels from a source through the building, through vents, hallways, stairwells and how wind leaks, buoyancy, and temperature affect air flow.

"If I release a little bit of a gas of some kind into a room, it can instantaneously fill the room and instantaneously move from one room to another," said Lorenzetti.

The guide outlines how this occurs and what path the gas takes.

The booklet is part of an ongoing effort to strengthen homeland security and safeguard against terrorist activities.

Berkeley researchers recently met with the Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge at the Department of Energy headquarters in Washington.

"Department of Energy laboratories are making real contributions to the homeland defense of our country," said Abraham in a press release.


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