29 November 2013

Fridays from the Archives: Games Galore

Friday, November 29, 2013: Games Galore

In honor of US Thanksgiving, today's Fridays from the Archives post focuses on a topic many of us encounter before or after turkey consumption: games.

Though your Thanksgiving day gaming interests may be more in the realm of American football, Timothy Dasey's 2011 presentation on EpiDIG shows how virtual games can provide an effective mental workout to supplement the physical. In Using Gaming Tools to Train Disease Surveillance Professionals and Investigate Next-Generation Capabilities, we learn the rationale behind gaming as a surveillance tool. Gaming not only allows people to hone their decision making abilities but it can also be instrumental in developing reaction strategies for events that are rarely seen and therefore difficult to prepare for.

Gaming is not sufficient for ensuring preparedness, but it has substantial potential as another tool in the arsenal of readiness. EpiDIG games are developed to supplement possible weaknesses of traditional emergency preparedness exercises, including a lack of feedback. The ability to simulate, for instance, a food borne disease outbreak, and receive direct feedback to the response and decision-making is extremely valuable to surveillance professionals. Since Dasey's presentation in 2011 MIT Lincoln Labs has continued to develop serious gaming systems and utilize them with public health practitioners (read more).

The full set of slides and recording from Timothy Dasey, PhD (October 27, 2011) can be found in the ISDS Webinar Archive.

This post is part of the series Fridays from the Archives. You can access all posts in the series here.

Written by Becky Zwickl, MPH, ISDS Public Health Analyst (bzwickl@syndromic.org)

22 November 2013

BioSense Testing at 2013 ISDS Conference

The BioSense Redesign team would like to invite you to participate in our one-on-one user testing sessions at the upcoming ISDS conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Thursday, December 12, and Friday, December 13, 2013. This invitation provides further details. Thank you for your interest.

The CDC BioSense Program provides local, state, and federal partners a timely regional and national picture of trends in disease syndromes and situation awareness. BioSense has been redesigned by RTI International to shift the program's focus to meet the needs of stakeholders and end users in state and local health departments, CDC programs, hospitals, and other federal agencies (i.e., DoD and VA) to improve regional and national coverage. You can learn more about the Program by watching this brief video: http://vimeo.com/32199430 and visiting the BioSense Collaboration Web site https://sites.google.com/site/biosenseredesign/.

A major part of the redesign is conducting one-on-one user testing sessions with potential BioSense 2.0 users. At ISDS this year, we are focusing on the BioSense 2.0 Collaboration Web site, a resource that provides information about BioSense 2.0 to all interested parties. The results of the testing sessions will allow us to make useful enhancements and updates to the Web site.

By taking part in this evaluation, you have the opportunity to influence the design of the BioSense 2.0 Collaboration Web site. If you are interested in meeting with us, please contact us at BioSense.User@gmail.com and we will work with you to schedule a convenient time.

During the Session:
We will describe real-world scenarios to you and ask you to use the Web site to work through the activities. We’ll ask you to describe your experience as you use the site. In addition, the computer that you use to complete the tasks on the BioSense 2.0 Collaboration Web site will capture data such as time-on-task, navigation of the site, and visual areas of interest that will help us to improve the site.

15 November 2013

Fridays from the Archives: Weather and Surveillance

Friday, November 15, 2013: Weather and Surveillance

Extreme weather events and infectious disease outbreaks have always struck me as being similar; both are highly unpredictable events and outcomes depend on a variety of biological and environmental factors. So, I was excited to see that there may be an interaction between the two when I found Absolute Humidity and Influenza Transmission Dynamics in the ISDS webinar archives.

In this 2010 webinar Dr. Jeffrey Shaman presents his thoughts on how a confluence of meteorological factors can affect the rates of influenza transmission. To set the stage, Dr. Shaman describes an experiment he found through a colleague; results showed that colder temperatures and lower relative humidity favor influenza transmission. He then describes his work in expanding the initial experiment to further explore humidity and temperature effects on influenza.

The meat of the presentation explores two hypotheses. First, that virus-laden aerosols are produced more efficiently at lower absolute (or specific) humidity. The second hypothesis posits that influenza virus survival increases as humidity decreases, which means that that airborne virus is viable longer at a lower humidity.

Perhaps my favorite part of this webinar occurs when Dr. Shaman explores whether or not epidemic influenza onset is associated with changes in humidity in the US. This specific case study of sorts provides real, concrete examples of how weather data may be applicable to public health.

If you are interested in the intersection of meteorology and epidemiology I recommend you set aside 60 minutes to listen to this webinar. A full recording is available here.

This blog post is the third installment of Fridays from the Archives. You can access all posts in the series here.

Written by Becky Zwickl, MPH, ISDS Public Health Analyst (bzwickl@syndromic.org)

13 November 2013

Highlighting the 2013 ISDS Pre-Conference Workshop: Introduction to Mapping for Disease Surveillance

Date: December 11, 2013
Location: Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, New Orleans, LA, USA 
The pre-conference workshops are professional development trainings that take place in coordination with the annual ISDS conference. These community-generated workshops are developed to address the professional needs of the disease surveillance workforce. This year, there are four training options, with 'Track 4: Introduction to Mapping for Disease Surveillance' featured below.


  • David Buckeridge, McGill University
  • Luc de Montigny, McGill University
  • David Kehrlein, Esri, Inc.


This Workshop includes three components: 1) a concise theoretical introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), geospatial data and exploratory spatial data analysis in the context of disease surveillance; 2) hands-on training to use QGIS (a free, open-source GIS) to make maps and con+duct basic geographic analysis using health data; and 3) an overview of ArcGIS, the industry-standard GIS. Note: There may be pre-assignments sent to registrants prior to the Workshop in order to maximize time and to facilitate greater efficiency on the overall flow of the workshop. Additional online resources/tutorials will be provided and are highly recommended for registrants unfamiliar with GIS/mapping.

Learn more.

08 November 2013

FEMA courses in domestic preparedness available for eligible responders

The following message is from Tom Tidwell, Resident Training, East Region Training Coordinator, Center for Domestic Preparedness

The Center for Domestic Preparedness is a member of the Department of Homeland Security, National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, and offers fully funded training for eligible responder disciplines. The attached training schedule has hyperlinks embedded in the “Program Letters” for easy access to the full course information.  If you have any question please don’t hesitate to call or drop me an email.  Please visit our website to learn more about the training we offer.

“If you are a state or local emergency responder, this training is completely funded by DHS at no cost to you or your jurisdiction. We fly you into Atlanta airport, pick you up, transport you to the CDP, and provide all meals and lodging.”

The CDP has officially launched its new Facebook site at www.facebook.com/cdpfema  we are also on twitter https://twitter.com/cdpfema.

            For personnel assigned as Department Chiefs, Operations, Superintendents, Training Officers, or Department Point of Contacts, with the responsibility and authority to schedule personnel for training I can use the “Holding Seat” process to reserve seats for you.  You will need to contact me directly and provide the name, phone number and department of the personnel you are requesting a seat for and if available I will make the reservation.  Applications are still required to be processed through the State SAA’s office for approval however; using this system you will know seats are available for you.  

Resident Training Schedule http://cdp.dhs.gov/training/schedule/

Recommended Training by Discipline http://cdp.dhs.gov/training/discipline/

Accreditation Continuing Education Units http://cdp.dhs.gov/training/accreditation/

Prepare for Training http://cdp.dhs.gov/prepare/travel/

Frequently Asked Questions http://cdp.dhs.gov/faq/

Tom Tidwell
Resident Training, East Region Training Coordinator
Center for Domestic Preparedness
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
U.S.Department of Homeland Security
P.O.Box 5100, 61 Responder Drive
Anniston, Alabama 36205
Phone: 256-847-2082
Toll Free: 1-866-213-9546

04 November 2013

Highlight on 2013 Pre-Conference Workshop: Using R for Disease Surveillance

Target Audience
The target audience of this Workshop is healthcare providers, public health practitioners, graduate students, and researchers.


  • Ian Painter, University of Washington
  • Yevgeniy Elberts, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory


The public health workforce (public health practitioners, healthcare providers, and academicians in research settings) require data, as well as analysis and visualization of that data, to enable and provide informed decision-making, whether clinically-based or policy-based. Continued budgetary restrictions and funding cuts have somewhat hindered the ability to purchase commercial products and applications; therefore, public health has a strong need for exposure to and training with open-source products and tools for data collection, analysis, and visualization. R is a language and environment for statistical computing and graphics. It provides a variety of statistical and graphical techniques, and is extensible (http://www.r-project.org/). As an open-source product, R is freely available, and, thus, optimal for use in a variety of settings. This Workshop is a hands-on training in how to use R for epidemiology, disease surveillance and high-quality data visualizations. Note: There will be pre-assignments sent to registrants prior to the Workshop in order to maximize time and to facilitate greater efficiency on the overall flow of the workshop. Additional online resources/tutorials will be provided and are highly recommended for registrants unfamiliar with the R language and environment.

01 November 2013

Fridays from the Archives: Understanding EMS Data Sources

Friday, November 1, 2013: Understanding EMS Data Sources

With Meaningful Use an increasingly important focus of state- and local- public health agencies, the usual suspects of data sources (i.e., hospital-based) seem to be central to most surveillance conversations. However, other data sources, such as those from EMS (Emergency Medical Services) not only offer unique insight, but may also complement streams of emergency department and hospital inpatient data.

In May of 2010 ISDS hosted a presentation, Understanding the Spectrum of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Data Sources and their Variation by Community, that delves in deep to the specifics of EMS data flow, structure, and use.

For instance, did you know that the approaches to recording EMS calls differs widely? Some dispatch centers use an unstructured process, others use a locally developed structured process, while still others use an international standard for structured data

Once the information is in the system, the presenters describe a number of unique ways in which EMS data can help address the growing problem of ambulance diversions in the United States. In particular, they describe the development of a model that can aid EMS and hospitals in better managing the health of the community by predicting diversions and potentially avoiding them altogether. Additionally, presenters describe some drawbacks of EMS data, such as the obstacles in obtaining subsequent hospital outcome data and the limitations of use when the data is aggregated.

Thank you to Todd Stout, Abey Kuruvilla and Christopher Olola for an interesting and informative presentation. A video recording of the full presentation and copies of the slides are available in the ISDS Webinar Archive at: http://www.syndromic.org/component/content/article/31/250

This blog post is the second installment of the series, "Fridays from the Archives". The first post can be accessed here.

Written by Becky Zwickl, MPH, ISDS Public Health Analyst (bzwickl@syndromic.org)