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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Mass decontamination research provides new scientific evidence for responders, hospitals to decontaminate chemical terrorism, accident survivors

Date: September 22, 2015

Organization: University of Hertfordshire in Great Britain

Funding: $6,621,162 over 2 years (24 months)

About this project: With BARDA support, the University of Hertfordshire will undertake a new series of studies to facilitate a fully optimized, generic, and standardized response to chemical incidents by U.S. first responders. The scientific evidence generated by this research will allow focused revisions of the Primary Response Incident Management System (PRISM), the nation’s first scientifically based guidance on the best ways to decontaminate survivors of an accident or terrorism attack involving chemical agents.

Initial studies conducted under a previous agreement between BARDA and the University led to development of PRISM, which provides strategic, tactical and operational guidance on mass-casualty decontamination during a chemical incident. The revised PRISM guidance will include a user-friendly algorithm, suitable for incorporation into a mobile application, which will allow first responders to rapidly assess the severity of an incident and ensure that any response is both effective and proportionate.

In addition, the researchers will explore the unresolved issue of how hair affects decontamination procedures, as well as the development of a robust decision-aiding tool for triggering immediate disrobing and/or mass decontamination processes at the scene of an incident.

This work builds on ground-breaking studies by the same University of Hertfordshire researchers for the European Union’s ORCHIDS (Optimization through Research of Chemical Incident Decontamination Systems) project, as well as their previous studies funded by HHS for the development of the comprehensive PRISM Guidance. 

The patient decontamination methods and processes used widely in the United States were developed primarily through trial-and-error without the benefit of scientific study. Working with the response community, ASPR identified a need for national guidance based on the best available scientific evidence for mass patient decontamination following a large-scale chemical release.

The project is part of a broader federal effort to develop medical products and procedures to protect health and save lives in a terrorist attack. The research supports first responders and emergency room staff responding to chemical accidents to help ensure that people exposed to potentially hazardous chemicals receive the most effective treatment possible during the initial stages of an incident.

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  • This page last reviewed: September 22, 2015