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Conference to address protecting emergency and disaster first responders


BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 13, 2005 – With the goal of increasing the safety of fire-fighters, police, emergency medical personnel and other first responders, the conference “Advanced Personal Protective Equipment: Challenges in Protecting First Responders” will be held Oct. 16-18 at the Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center in Blacksburg.

The conference is sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NIOSH-NPPTL) and Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering and Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE).

NIOSH-NPPTL has provided funding to make the event affordable for police, fire and emergency personnel, who will pay a conference fee of only $25 for all activities, including workshops, keynote addresses and lectures.

“Disaster and emergency responders today sometimes face unknown situations because of emerging threats, such as chemical and biological warfare and terrorist attacks, as well as more common threats, like truck or train wrecks that result in hazardous materials spills,” said John Casali, Grado Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech.

“All of these situations typically require personal protective gear of various types,” Casali said. “Some of this equipment is quite specialized and expensive, and selection and purchasing can be challenging.”

The conference is aimed at two groups, Casali said; the first responders who purchase and rely on personal protective equipment, and the researchers, manufacturers and government personnel who develop, manufacture, test and set standards for personal protective equipment.

“The protective equipment first responders use — from ensembles of suits, hats and boots to communication devices, heat and chemical sensors, and self-contained breathing apparatus — must be safe, easy to apply and use, and guard against incident threats,” Casali said. The conference will offer guidance on the selection of personal protective equipment, as well as demonstrations of current production equipment and new technologies.

“Another important issue is that this equipment should comply with federal and, in some cases, international standards,” said Casali, who is director of Virginia Tech’s Auditory Systems Laboratory, where testing for standards compliance is done on some of the hearing protection and communications equipment used by first responders and other groups. Casali is applying some of the lab’s NIOSH-NPPTL funding to help keep conference registration fees at a minimum for first responders.

Casali initiated the conference under contract to NIOSH and organized it in collaboration with Jeff Lancaster, research assistant professor in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Ed Nelson, the College of Engineering’s assistant dean for administration.

The conference keynote speakers will be George W. Foresman, assistant to Gov. Mark Warner for Commonwealth Preparedness; Richard Duffy, assistant to the general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters; and Philip Mattson of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate.

On Sunday, Oct. 16, the conference will offer workshops on three topics: incident response to terrorist bombings, what responders need to know about NIOSH-approved respirators, and how to use agent-based simulation for assessment of a disaster response.

Lecture session topics on Oct. 17 and 18 will include disaster response management, personal protective equipment standards, human-protective equipment interface issues and solutions, new equipment technologies, electronics in protective equipment, and testing methods.

Workshop leaders and lecturers will include representatives from NIOSH-NPPTL and the Centers for Disease Control; University of Virginia; Christiansburg, Va., Police Department; Public Safety Technology Center; Lifesaving Resources, Inc.; Virginia Tech Environmental Safety and Health; National Fire Protection Association; DuPont Personal Protection; Naval Air Systems Command; University of Arkansas; Virginia Tech Auditory Systems Lab; Supercritical Thermal Systems, Inc.; North Carolina State University; Extreme Endeavors; Carnegie Mellon University; National Institute of Standards and Technology; and Sonomax Hearing Healthcare, Inc.

A complete conference agenda and registration information can be found at http://www.conted.vt.edu/appe/. For more information about program content and participation, contact Jeff Lancaster at (540)231-2680 or jlancast@vt.edu.