BBC World News Horizons explores how technology aims to limit the impact of pandemics and natural disasters

Date: 19.04.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.01
Category: BBC World News
In the fifth episode of Horizons, presenters Adam Shaw and Saima Mohsin travel to Toronto, Canada and College Station, Texas to explore how the world is adapting to ever changing threats to public health and learn about the pioneering technologies and response systems working to predict and respond to worldwide outbreaks of disease and natural disasters.

It has been estimated that there are more new diseases emerging today than ever before and with two billion people boarding commercial flights every year there has never been greater opportunities for localised outbreaks of disease to radically transform into international epidemics.

Adam Shaw travels to Toronto, Canada, to meet Dr Kamran Khan, one of the creators behind Bio.Diaspora, a piece of equipment that maps the emergence of new diseases in real time and predicts where they may spread globally through the movements of international travellers. Dr Kamran Khan said: “If we look at pandemics, historically they’ve happened every 30 to 40 years but the question is ‘is that the same interval we’re going to see in the future?’ and I’m not sure that is the case now as there are a number of global forces converging. The world’s population is getting larger, our interactions with animals are changing and most new diseases, swine or bird flu and even HIV for example, come from animals. We also have climate change and a number of other factors so it may be that in the future, pandemics will be occurring more frequently than we’ve seen in the past.”

Adam’s journey also takes him to meet Dr. Michael Gardam in Toronto, who was part of a team responsible for dealing with the 2003 SARS outbreak in the city, and investigates how Bio.Diaspora could change the world’s ability to react to global threats to public health.

Continuing the exploration into global threats to the public, Horizons co-presenter Saima Mohsin comes face to face with Disaster City in College Station, Texas, USA. The mock city provides the most comprehensive emergency response training facility in the world, housing collapsible structures that are designed to simulate a variety of disaster scenarios, including terrorist attacks and earthquakes. Saima explores how Disaster City has equipped emergency personnel with the necessary skills and knowledge to respond effectively in the most challenging situations.

William Welch, Communications Manager, Texas Engineering Extension, commented: “We provide the responder who trains here with the experience of having gone through a scenario in a very realistic way so that when they respond in real life they have a level of training and experience that is going to enable them to perform better. Eventually there will be a disaster which is big enough that everyone will have to work together so we should train, plan and prepare before it happens.”

Saima is also given a practical demonstration of the LifeLocator, a sensory device that helps to find living victims trapped under collapsed buildings. Already deployed in a number of major disasters including the Japan earthquake in 2011, it has been estimated that the device was responsible for saving the lives of at least fifty victims of the Sichuan Province earthquake. Saima meets David Cist from Geophysical Survey Systems Inc. who explains how, unlike other forms of search equipment where the sensor is moved in order to detect underground objects, the Lifelocator’s sensor is stationary allowing rescuers to detect much fainter signs of life.

Broadcasting on BBC World News 5th May and 6th May 2012.

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