Advanced modeling

Unlocking the mysteries of plagues and other biological threats to humans

Model of biological threat

Sandia has developed a suite of medical supply chain models that help hospitals more effectively provide medical services when electric power, water, and communications infrastructure are lost.

Sandia also has extensive expertise in modeling the spread of contagious diseases in urban populations and estimating their impacts on the local economy and infrastructure.

Cities must provide medical services that ensure the health and well-being of their populations. During disasters, medical resources are often in overwhelming demand, requiring cities to coordinate and prioritize resources across competing requests. For example, in the event of a pandemic, medical facilities are responsible for identifying pathogens, treating the affected population, developing strategies for minimizing the spread of contagion, and educating the public on prevention and care strategies.

Disruption of the medical community and services can result in loss of life. When disruptive events such as hurricanes and earthquakes occur,  power, transportation, and other critical supporting infrastructure are often not operating at levels required to enable hospitals to receive and treat patients. A surge in patients may exceed available medical services, resulting in the medical community being forced to make difficult decisions about which patients or communities to prioritize. Medical services also comprise the only city infrastructure that requires increased efficiency and reliability during a disruptive event, compared to normal conditions.

Key medical challenges for a city include:

  • Resource availability during crises: Crises and disasters increase the need for medical services and limit medical facilities' abilities to provide medical care, due to loss of power and water, as well as transportation disruptions that can prevent or delay medical staff, equipment, and supplies from reaching the medical facility.
  • Disease forensics and treatment: In the event of a disease outbreak or pandemic, it is necessary to rapidly identify the pathogen and a course of treatment. This requires that either the necessary laboratories, equipment, and staff are located within the city, or that relationships are in place to engage entities in other locations to perform these activities.
  • Dependency on other cities and regions: The medical community in cities with less developed capabilities may rely heavily on other cities, regions, and countries. Delays in receiving medical aid may occur unless the necessary relationships and aid agreements are put in place before a disaster occurs.

For cities seeking to enhance the resilience of their medical communities, opportunities include:

Resource and resilience planning for disasters: Constrained resources, such as medical personnel, medicine, and equipment, can severely limit a city's medical response to disasters. Identifying critical resources and developing plans to ensure their availability in times of crisis are critical to the medical community's resilience and the health of a city's inhabitants.

Disaster aid agreements: Economic and infrastructure constraints may prevent the acquisition of medical capabilities within a city, forcing the city to rely on other regions for disaster medical assistance. Developing understanding of, and agreements with external organizations such as other cities, countries, or international aid agencies before a crisis occurs is essential to decreasing delays and subsequent loss of life.

Sandia has significant expertise in improving the resilience of medical services in preparation for disasters. Examples include:

Hospital evacuation modeling: In collaboration with the U.S. Veterans Emergency Management and Evaluation Center and Cornell University, Sandia has developed computational models to study hospital evacuations that occur as a result of infrastructure outages. The models have been used to understand how long a hospital can provide necessary medical services when infrastructure such as electric power, water, and communications are lost. They've also been used to identify how hospital operations can maximize patient care and the resources required to shelter in place or evacuate.

Pandemic modeling: Sandia has models that simulate multi-scale epidemiology and public health infrastructure for cities, regions, or countries. These models estimate the spread of disease throughout a population and its effects on the economy and infrastructure, and can help cities develop plans for medical resilience during disasters.

Patient surge modeling: Sandia has a suite of models to estimate patient surge—the increase in medical service needs following a disaster—and the capacity of a region's hospital to address the surge. This capability has been used for disaster planning and exercises in cities.