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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Computer Simulation as a Tool to Enable Decision-Making in a Pandemic Influenza Response Scenario


Introduction: We sought to develop and test a computer-based, interactive simulation of a hypothetical pandemic influenza outbreak. Fidelity was enhanced with integrated video and branching decision trees, built upon the 2007 federal planning assumptions. We conducted a before-and-after study of the simulation effectiveness to assess the simulations’ ability to assess participants’ beliefs regarding their own hospitals’ mass casualty incident preparedness.

Methods: Development: Using a Delphi process, we finalized a simulation that serves up a minimum of over 50 key decisions to 6 role-players on networked laptops in a conference area. The simulation played out an 8-week scenario, beginning with pre-incident decisions. Testing: Role-players and trainees (N=155) were facilitated to make decisions during the pandemic. Because decision responses vary, the simulation plays out differently, and a casualty counter quantifies hypothetical losses. The facilitator reviews and critiques key factors for casualty control, including effective communications, working with external organizations, development of internal policies and procedures, maintaining supplies and services, technical infrastructure support, public relations and training. Pre- and post-survey data were compared on trainees.

Results: Post-simulation trainees indicated a greater likelihood of needing to improve their organization in terms of communications, mass casualty incident planning, public information and training. Participants also recognized which key factors required immediate attention at their own home facilities.

Conclusion: The use of a computer-simulation was effective in providing a facilitated environment for determining the perception of preparedness, evaluating general preparedness concepts and introduced participants to critical decisions involved in handling a regional pandemic influenza surge. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(3):236–242.]

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