Computerized system offers warning of bioterror attack
Calls to 911 to be monitored in 80 percent of Nevada

By Scott Sonner, Associated Press

Reno- Nevada soon will become the first state to cover three-fourths of its residents under a new computerized system that tracks 911 emergency calls to serve as early warning of bioterrorizm attacks or other outbreaks.

The Regional Emergency Medical services Authority serving Reno, Sparks and Washoe County on Monday became only the fourth location in the nation to implement the "First Watch" biosurveillance system.

Within two weeks, Las Vegas and Clark County also will be covered by the system that tracks 911 calls for sudden jumps in illnesses and injuries.

"It will place the state of Nevada in the unique position where about 80 percent of the state’s population will be monitored," said Patrick smith president of the emergency Medical services Authority.

"It’s designed to give us a heads up of a possible problem," Smith said.

The system uses historical data to establish the normal or average number of 911 calls in an area by type, time and location. It generates an alert when a statistically significant spike occurs in the number of calls for certain illnesses or conditions, such as difficulty breathing, cardiac arrest or unknown health problems.

"It won’t tell you we’ve got smallpox, but it will say something abnormal appears to be happening and we wanted to let you know," smith said.

‘We can get our heads together faster to see if this is really a problem or not," he said.

The software system is the brainchild of Todd Stout, 39, Encinitas, Calif. who invented it in 1999 at the request of the city health director for Kansas City, MO. Since then, it has been installed in Richmond, VA., and Fort Wayne, Ind. Soon it will be implemented in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., where it will cover roughly 80 percent of that state’s residents, Stout said.

"I’m pretty proud of it. I started as a stock boy for an ambulance company in 1980 in Kansas city," Stout told reporters in Reno on Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control "says the best defense is early warning, early notification. There’s no doubt if we get early warning, we can save lives," he said.

Dr. Jeff Clawson, chief executive officer for the Priority Dispatch Corp. of salt Lake City and an authority on medical dispatch systems, said it’s an example of concrete steps being taken to ensure security "other than getting strip searched at airports."

The cost varies from $5,000 to $25,000, depending on the size of the city, Stout said. Washoe County paid $10,000 for the system and can expect annual costs of about 18 percent to pay for software updates, he said.

Stout said the tracking system has important everyday uses beyond potential bioterrorist attacks, such as assessing accident patterns, drowning trends, fire suppression patterns, and general crime patterns.

"It’s good for things that in the past have been subject to after-the-fact analysis," he said.