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Future Medical Shelter Prototype Set Up at Fort Detrick

By Karen Fleming-Michael
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT DETRICK, Md., June 16, 2004 – A telemedicine test bed here welcomed a new, green neighbor May 25 when a boxy prototype of the Army's Future Medical Shelter System arrived from Tennessee.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Maj. Gen. Lester Martinez-Lopez, commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick, Md., visits the prototype of the Army's Future Medical Shelter System May 26 and speaks with Steve Reichard, center, and Tony Story about its future. Photo by Dave Rolls
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Encased in a standard shipping container, the 8-foot by 8-foot by 20-foot shelter essentially is a new operating room in a box for a combat support hospital that can be ready for patients in as little as a half hour, said Steve Reichard, program manager for the shelter at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity here.

"This is a potential replacement for the ISO container portion of the DEPMEDS (Deployable Medical System) for the combat support hospital, which we knew we needed to replace," he said. "The whole concept here is you've got everything packed inside the ISO container, and you push a button, and it opens."

The container really does expand at the push of a button. After the power switch is hooked up to a 24-volt battery - which any standard military vehicle will have - and a green button is pressed, the container geometrically morphs into three shapes - a box, to a triangle to a rectangle - in one minute and 37 seconds.

"It looks like a cicada coming out," said Mark Arnold, an engineer with USAMMDA who has been working on the FMSS concept for more than two years.

Having a shelter set up that quickly is a real improvement over the current shelter that is contained in two ISO containers, Reichard said.

For that system to be operational, "you've got to manually unfold the existing container, which takes a fair amount of time, and then you've got to physically unload all of the stuff from one ISO container into one like this one," he said. "I'm not going to say that you can get everything that's in the support container into this new ISO container, but you can get a whole lot more in here than you can currently."

Prototypers from Y12 National Security Company at the Oakridge Reservation in Tennessee developed the ISO container that Reichard and Arnold, along with others from Detrick, got to see inside and out during a morning demonstration May 26.

"We started with a clean sheet of paper," said Duane Bias, the Tennessee project manager for the prototype since the program started in June 2000. "It wasn't like we could take an original design and modify it to suit our needs (and) then go on and build. We spent quite a bit of time just wrestling with requirements."

The new ISO prototype also offers users protection from chemical and biological agents, something the current DEPMEDS ISO can't offer without extra labor and supplies. "It's pretty tight once you get the environmental control units hooked up to it, and it uses positive air pressure to keep everything out," Bias said.

Though the container's weight is 1,200 pounds over its goal of 15,000 pounds, Bias is certain his team can meet that target.

"We were hoping to be under 15,000. That sounds like a lot, but it's really not when you're talking about the capability you have on the ground and the fact that a stock ISO container alone weighs 6,000 pounds," he said. "When we add equipment and supplies, we'll add more weight, but I think we've identified enough stuff to take out of there that we can be under 15,000."

In addition to the Tennessee company, two others, Mobile Medical in Vermont and EADS Dornier in Germany, have taken on the task of creating their versions of the Army's future mobile operating suite in an ISO container. Reichard said the final ISO container for the Future Medical Shelter System likely will be an amalgam of the three prototypes.

"We plan to evaluate all three of them and will probably end up saying we like A, B and C from this one and D, E and F from this one for the final version," he said. Keeping with the theme of three, the improved surgical suite in the ISO container is one of three components that make up the entire Future Medical Shelter System program.

The other two are a vehicle the U.S. Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command is developing that can carry the container, and new tents that use air beam frames and are lighter and easier to set up.

During the morning's demo at Detrick, engineers involved with the shelter strolled around the shelter prototype like auto show attendees, asking its developers, Duane Bias, Lee Bzorgi and Terry Brown, about the hydraulic system, the air-handling system and the equipment.

Once the container expanded to three times its initial width, Brown and Bzorgi glided the supply containers across the linoleum floor to their proper places and set up the surgical equipment so users would get accustomed to the process.

"We're here to show troops how to use it and actually train them on the operation of it," Bias said.

Curtis Callender, Tony Story and Neal Batdorf all maintain the Telemedicine and Advance Technology Research Center's Forward Deployable Digital Medical Treatment Facility. The FDDMTF, as it's called, is a medical technology test bed that, for the foreseeable future, will be connected to the new container and serve as its keeper.

"They needed a place to store it, and we're always interested in new equipment. We had the space and they had the equipment, so it worked out perfect for us," Callender said.

For example, he said Story has been considering changing the testbed's lighting to the type of lights the prototype uses to see how they will work with the digital shelter. This adjacent placement of the shelter with the FDDMTF will let the team evaluate the light-emitting diode lights firsthand without having to purchase them first.

The new container is in good hands with Callender, who grilled the Tennessee team on how to take care of it. "It's always a learning experience. Every new piece of equipment requires new care, so you have to stay flexible," he said.

Callender especially focused on how well the container would fare during harsh weather, because fierce thunderstorms rolled through the night before the demonstration, prompting a tornado warning for the area. He takes his tents seriously, and even drove from Detrick to Pennsylvania to sleep in his tents during Hurricane Isabel to make sure they weathered the storm.

"I'd like to be able to leave it up in the weather," he said, "because they don't get to take these things down in Iraq. But since this is a prototype and hasn't been finalized, I wouldn't expect the ISO to take it without adaptations."

Reichard said the prototype's new home with the TATRC team will help come up with suggestions for the next version of the shelter.

"TATRC is doing a lot of work on future deployable medical systems, so we figured this was a good fit because this is a future medical system," he said. "Hopefully they can give us a lot of feedback on what they like and what needs improvement."

As users set up the shelter, their wish lists began to form for the next version they'd like to see. However, Congress initially funded the program, and no additional money has been appropriated for the second prototype. If money does become available, Bias said, his team wants "to get the good, the bad and the ugly on this one" to make improvements.

(Karen Fleming-Michael is a staff writer for The Sentinel at Fort Detrick, Md.)

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Related Sites:
Fort Detrick, Md.
U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity
Telemedi cine and Advance Technology Research Center

Click photo for screen-resolution imageTerry Brown, an electrical engineer who worked on the Future Medical Shelter System prototype, hangs surgical lights in the ISO container that triples in size at the push of a button. Photo by Karen Fleming-Michael  
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