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The NC Agromedicine Institute is a University of North Carolina Institute.

Member Universities:
East Carolina University
North Carolina State University
NC Agricultural & Technical State University
 
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Furthering Agricultural Health and Safety through Clinical Surveillance, Information Dissemination and Disaster Monitoring
Project Name: Furthering Agricultural Health and Safety through Clinical Surveillance, Information Dissemination and Disaster Monitoring

Principal Investigator: Susan Gustke, MD, FACP, (deceased), East Carolina University

Project Description: Agriculture has always been at risk from natural disasters including drought, hurricanes, flooding, and excessive heat and freezing conditions. A recent example is the agricultural devastation eastern North Carolina experienced as a result of severe flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The risk of introduction of new zoonotic disease into animal production operations is an increasing concern. The increased risk is in part a result of greater imports into the US, and more international travel to and from the US. Our animal operations have also become more vulnerable with the move to fewer, larger animal operations and closed containment animal production.

With the events of 9-11, the nation has become more aware of the vulnerability of our agricultural operations and the nations food supply to possible terrorist activity. While it is agreed that no steps can provide absolute protection, heightened awareness, increased monitoring, and reduction of vulnerability can reduce the likelihood of terrorist attack.

With this in mind, three prototype remote monitoring stations were developed to give advance warning when conditions are out of the ordinary.

The field station is a modular systems approach designed to allow non-technical people to be able to mix and match power, communications, and monitors into one durable weather protected case. This system’s approach allows for different geographic topologies to utilize different communication methods by hot-swapping components. This allows for a variety of renewable power sources (wind, water, solar), a variety of monitors (air quality, water quality, weather, radiation), and a variety of communications (InfraRed, serial, usb, Bluetooth, radio modem, 802.11, cellular, satellite). Multiple power choices, redundant communications, and multiple sensor payloads provide a centralized sensor platform for use well past the life-span of any individual sensor. Although not all of the listed options are useful to 90% of the consumer base, the modularity of the system allows for all of the above choices. Components are literally unplugged and re-plugged into the field station to choose which communication option you want to use. The only proprietary box inside of a field station is a custom core processor made by Autonomechs. Everything else is commercial off the shelf. Battery life, for example, can be increased by adding solar panels and more batteries, or costs can be saved by finding medium that works for the operator.

Preliminary Findings to Date: After 12 months of testing started in February of 2004, we have been able to reliably and wirelessly transmit data from areas that have high wireless (802.11) coverage as well as areas without cellular coverage by transmitting via satellite. The systems were put through the heat of summer, the cold of winter, and a few hurricanes along the way, without any structural of system failure.

Achievements and Outcomes: There are a variety of research areas to move into from the end of the study. Additional sensors are always becoming available from the research facilities across the world. These sensors, coupled with the field stations, allow a fast and east path to get sensors from the lab, to the ground, quickly. The core processor is upgradeable, the power system changeable, allowing the system to be very dynamic and custom tailored to every situation. Due to the systems ability to handle multiple sensors at one time, the operator can save money by not needing to individually encapsulate each sensor and can reuse the station when additional sensors become available. The remote monitoring portion of the project found that after 12 months of testing, we were able to reliably and wirelessly transmit data from areas that have high wireless coverage as well as areas without cellular coverage by transmitting via satellite. The systems were tested through the heat of summer, the cold of winter, and a few hurricanes along the way, without any structural of system failure. We conclude that there are a variety of research areas to to investigate building upon the results of our study. For example, additional sensors are always becoming available from research facilities across the world. These sensors, coupled with the field stations, allow a fast and easy path to transfer environmental data from the field to lab. Moreover, the core processor that we used is upgradeable and the the power system is changeable, allowing the system to be very dynamic and custom tailored to every situation. The clinical surveillance part of the project found that the newly developed and tested clinic intake form (produced in English and Spanish) improved patient care and was cost effectively expanded into other community health clinics, outreach settings, and emergency rooms. Presentations stemming from this project have increased awareness and understanding of occupational injuries and illnesses affecting agricultural workers. Findings from the clinic level surveillance contributed to an ergonomic assessment of ground crops and subsequent projects designed to reduce agriculture related injuries. The agricultural injury and illness data base and educational material part of the project developed information that improved the collection and dissemination of health and intervention related material for field workers.

This project provided information on remote monitoring technology in agricultural settings and demonstrated its reliability, durability, and applicability under a variety of environmental conditions, which will lead to improvements agricultural applications. The clinical surveillance, data base, and educational portions of the project lead to improved patient care, access, and health knowledge in rural agricultural settings, as evidenced by outcome evaluations.

Publications:

USDA DVD for Partners #13-1890 Land Grant Universities

Presentations:

May 03, 2005, DVD Production meeting with USDA production team for Partners #13-1890 Institutions

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