Wearable Computer causes Decontamination Dilemma

With the advent of wearable computers in widespread civilian use, police, fire, and medical teams fear less than full cooperation from victims of mass casualties or those suspected of carrying disease.


DECON UNIT: People were stripped, decontaminated, and wrapped in blankets by a specially trained strike force dressed in attack-proof suits built for handling potentially toxic materials.

Downtown Toronto's King street was shut down by police yesterday, who worked with army units in a declaration of martial law, to facilitate the mass decontamination effort.

A police spokesperson said employees in the basement mailroom at EXISTech Corporation sounded an alarm when a strange grey powder spilled from a package.

Although none of the 180 people who were stripped down, showered with a mild bleach disinfectant, and dressed in tyvek suits required hospital treatment, the spokesperson said ``we can never be too careful when dealing with a potential threat''. Domestic preparedness is a growing worldwide concern, worth bringing together police, fire departments, and military strike forces around the world to cooperate in the global war on disease and biological hazards.

Yesterday's incident is the second incident this week, requiring Toronto's Decon Strike Force to be on hand. Three days ago, two government buildings were evacuated when a strange package was believed to have contained athrax. Athrax is a deadly spore that can cause flu-like symptoms followed by death in a matter of a few days. Prompt removal of clothing, along with a shower in five percent bleach solution is required of those suspected of having come in contact with athrax spores.

With incidents of suspected contamination, all contaminated clothing, including undergarments and jewelry, must be removed immediately. This is no time for modesty. Clothing must be bagged for lab testing, as well as evidence that could be used later in apprehending and prosecuting the perpetrators.

Civil right activists have expressed concern at the suspension of civil liberties during such mass decontamination excercises they say amount to little more than a mass strip search for evidence gathering purposes. They say such excercises are worse than a normal strip search where a suspect can retain his or her clothing after the search. Activists say that bagging their clothes and sending victims home in paper suits or wearing garbage bags (a cheap and easy option) would rob them of their dignity and also show that city emergency personnel were less than well prepared to handle the situation. However, the vast majority feel that martial law is a small price to pay when lives are potentially at risk.

Nevertheless, the control of contaminated persons who refuse to cooperate with fire department or health services personnel is a serious issue, and the potential for such situations is not only possible but very likely, as became evident in yesterday's incident when one of the victims refused to undress.

The victim managed to avoid the pre-strip hose-down. Prior to being stripped, victims are usually hosed down so that loose spores that might have accumulated on clothing do not release in aerosol form. In order to avoid the hose-down, the victim slipped out of the decontamination lines formed by army personnel. It appears he did not want to get his computer system wet. Most wearable computers incorporate a head mounted display. Much like a miniature television screen, such headworn displays have voltages as high as 13,000 volts present, although most modern units use much lower voltages (420-480 volts for the Xybernaut product, versus 800 volts for the SONY systems). Clearly these systems present unique decontamination dilemmas. Moreover, wearable computers are often used as prostheses, to monitor heart, respiration, and other physiological parameters. Additionally, like eyeglasses, wearers often use them to see better. A wearable computer user may feel dizzy or disoriented when the system is removed, and cannot safely evacuate an area.

Uncooperative victim refuses to undress.

Previous Articles