Biodesign Institute participates in first-of-its-kind 'coyote' disaster preparedness drill

Rapid response technologies for bioterrorism and 'dirty bomb' scenarios

A full year in planning, the first Coyote Crisis Campaign (CCC) culminated in a large-scale disaster drill during the week of April 24-28, 2006. The Biodesign Institute at ASU was among the participants facilitating emergency response coordination during a mass casualty crisis scenario.

Nationally, the exercise was the first major drill of its type between government, National Guard, healthcare, private industry and academic institutions. General Dynamics, Scottsdale Healthcare, the Arizona Air National Guard, the City of Scottsdale and the Biodesign Institute were among the key participants. Additional participants included representatives of National Guard units from seven states, Maricopa County, and other government agencies and military units. Observers from state government, the U.S. Northern Command and the Pentagon attended the exercise.

The Biodesign Institute's Center for Applied NanoBioscience, led by director Frederic Zenhausern, played a key role in developing disaster response technologies to two scenarios: a bioterrorism attack on a private company, General Dynamics C4 Systems in Scottsdale, and a radiological, or "dirty bomb" incident with the City of Scottsdale and Scottsdale Healthcare.

"Our center's focus is to develop a number of novel molecular-based diagnostic tests and devices that can be used by individuals and public health systems," said Zenhausern, also a professor of electrical engineering in the Fulton School of Engineering. "For our research center, participation in the Coyote Crisis Campaign was an exceptional opportunity to field test our emergency response technologies in a real-time disaster scenario."

The Coyote Crisis Campaign disaster drill tested emergency responses to a mock terrorist strike in Nevada and Arizona which had consequences for the greater Scottsdale area. The scenario began with explosions in Nevada to knock out large power grid in the Southwestern U.S.; large explosions at several sites in Scottsdale; blackouts in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley; the Arizona Canal breached at multiple locations; bombing at a large regional mall; possible contamination of air and water; potential contaminated water flowing toward Tempe Town Lake and the Salt River; a "dirty bomb" radiation/chemical cloud moving over the city; 10,000 plus casualties and a State of Emergency declared.

During one scenario, an explosive and bioterror threat was discovered within the sprawling, General Dynamics site. All GD employees were evacuated and Scottsdale police, SWAT, K9 and other early responder teams activated and deployed. The 161st Air National Guard, using specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters, whisked away victims on litters to and from a mobile "MASH" style hospital at the Papago National Guard Base and Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn's Emergency Trauma Center. The latest version in the "MASH" concept is called EMEDS-- Expeditionary Medical Support, and was employed for relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, the military's newest Air Force C-17 transport, the highly efficient casualty evacuation system, AirEvac, was also demonstrated.

Zenhausern's center team, which includes researchers Carl Yamashiro, Ph.D., Ralf Lenigk, Ph.D., Moria Nagy and Mark Richards, worked in close collaboration with the Coyote Crisis Campaign participants and graduate students and assistant professor Dosun Shin from ASU's College of Design to develop a product concept for a mobile, rapid assessment device to respond to potential bioterror threats.

"The College of Design members did an exceptional job of helping us to create a safe, well-organized, ergonomic containment enclosure that met our technical requirements for processing and identifying a simulated bioagent threat," said Carl Yamashiro, senior researcher at the Biodesign center.

The biothreat identification elements relied on the center's automated miniaturized lab-on-a-chip cartridges, which take advantage of advanced disposable, microfluidic and plastic components, no larger than a credit card. In an airtight lab workstation enclosure, a biothreat sample's chemical signature, such as DNA, is extracted and loaded into a pinhole slot of a small reactor in the cartridge, where a rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can be performed. PCR, working like a DNA photocopier, churns out millions of copies of the sample to provide enough raw DNA material for the pathogen identification.

After the PCR step, a capillary electrophoresis chip is used to separate out the barcode-like DNA fragments and identify the pathogen against a known database of biothreat agents. All of the equipment fits into a mobile van. The whole biothreat identification process was completed on-site and information relayed to emergency response units in less than forty-five minutes.

On a second day of activities involving the Biodesign Institute, Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn became the scene of a triage center for "dirty bomb" victims. In the event of a dirty bomb, a radioactive plume can widely disperse over a metropolitan area. Any response system must be able to measure quickly and accurately an individual's biological damages from low dose radiation exposure (e.g. cell damages and DNA breaks) while accounting for the surge in patient volume.

The center's biodosimetry devices are currently under development through a multi-institute consortium led by Columbia University and which is sponsored by a $25 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) that will develop high-throughput biodosimetry systems and rapid radiation exposure tests for screening large population groups.

During the Coyote Crisis Campaign, the Biodesign team worked with ASU's College of Design for designing a portable biodosimetry system of reusable tester cartridges, devices, products and procedures to rapidly identify, track and transmit exposure test results to the hospital. Individuals underwent decontamination for exposure and simulated testing and processing of human blood for radiological exposure and treatment. General Dynamics worked with Scottsdale Healthcare and partners to advance a unique application of a patient tracking system called EMTrack.

Following the week's activities, the Coyote Crisis Campaign participants will hold several debriefings to best understand how the stakeholders can better collaborate and leverage external and internal assets to achieve a higher standard of patient care and offer the nation an exemplary alternative to current disaster response operations.

"Our Biodesign team will report the lessons learned from the disaster drill," said Zenhausern. "These will be incorporated into national emergency response efforts to prepare for the next natural disaster or man-made terrorism incident. It is our hope, that by our efforts, we can contribute to better preparedness planning in order to save lives in the event of a future disaster. Next year, our team will plan a possible simulation of its bird flu based systems for assessing pandemic preparedness."


The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University addresses challenges to human health by integrating research in biology, chemistry, physics, medicine, agriculture, environmental science, electronics, engineering and computing. This bold approach ensures discoveries are rapidly converted into applications and adopted by the private sector. The Biodesign Institute is the largest investment in bioscience research infrastructure in Arizona. For more information, visit

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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