Every month we write about wearables that monitor heart rate and heart rate variability, blood pressure, respiration, blood oxygen level, and more. In many cases, biosensor wearables connect via Bluetooth with smartphone apps that store the data for user reference, transmit information to the cloud for third-party access, and send notification alerts. Switch now to a mass casualty scene where chaos typically reigns during the crucial minutes and hours that can determine who lives an who dies. Most wearables would not be helpful during such a fast-moving disaster response.

We’ve also covered technology to assist first responders such including wristbands that contain complete medical records, a handheld ultrasound, and a device that provides highly accurate location data. As useful as each of these devices may be, none brings order to a major disaster scene.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) developed and just recently introduced prototypes for VitalTag. VitalTag is a stick-on wearable with a suite of low-cost sensors that help first responders with the three T’s: triage, treat, and transport. The wearable transmits vital signs, medical status, and the individual’s location on an incident map. By viewing the transmissions from all casualties on the site from a single map on a mobile device or laptop computer, the response team can allocate and manage resources for the greatest benefit. According to PNNL, the VitalTag gives EMTs and paramedics the information that they need to help more patients faster.

PNNL developed VitalTag with Homeland Security’s Responder Technology Alliance (RTA). PNNL is working with AnovaWorks to validate the VitalTag monitoring against standard medical equipment. Assuming the technology validation is successful, PNNL foresees VitalTag applications in various settings where it’s necessary to track vital signs of multiple people simultaneously.