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Environmental Factor, November 2012

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Mobile technologies poised to aid training and emergency response

By Ed Kang

Sharon Beard

Sharon Beard, who organized the session, described the capability of mobile technologies to deal with emerging environmental threats, one of the central themes of the new NIEHS strategic plan. Beard is an industrial hygienist in the NIEHS WETP. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Rick Woychik, Ph.D. and Charlie Tate with representatives from MetaMedia

Attendees from across the Institute, including NIEHS Deputy Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D., second from left, and Charlie Tate, right, a member of the NIEHS Operations and Security Branch, got to see, firsthand, how tablet computers can be a vital tool for information delivery.  They’re pictured here with representatives from MetaMedia. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Several representatives of leading-edge organizations visited NIEHS Oct. 9 to demonstrate how mobile technologies are being used by responders, hazardous materials handlers, and other public health workers, to maintain safe operations and ensure that the most up-to-date information is deployed to the field when needed. The presentations and demonstrations by representatives from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Cell Podium, and MetaMedia showed the potential of mobile computing to transform the delivery of education, training, and emergency response messages.

Each of the three organizations referred to the growth in the use of tablet computer and smart phones as a way to reach multiple demographics, including those who may not have access to other kinds of computing equipment such as desktop computers. The latest applications take advantage of shrinking device size, wireless communications, and multimedia capabilities. 


“We want to bring science to the disaster and be proactive about looking at what the possible exposures could be before they actually happen,” said NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program (WETP) Analyst Jim Remington, who manages a portfolio of hazardous material training and oversees disaster response activities. “And when we have disasters, we want to get information to the folks out in the field, using mobile technologies, to help protect workers while they’re doing their jobs.” 


The development of these technologies has been supported by WETP using small business research grants. Training for workers has traditionally required physical classrooms and educational materials, and recent technological advances have opened opportunities for providing accessible, accurate, and interactive training through electronic channels. These new approaches help to rapidly and effectively equip workers with the skills and knowledge to protect themselves and their communities from hazards. 


The seminar was sponsored by the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, as part of its ongoing Keystone Science Lecture Seminar Series.

(Ed Kang is a public affairs specialist in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a frequent contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

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