November 13, 2002

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Photo: HAZMAT suitNo Room for Kismet in HAZMAT Design

OSU’s Donna Branson is well on the way to creating a “chilled liquid circulating garment” that will give HAZMAT workers a new lease on life under those bulky suits. But she’s not satisfied with enabling emergency personnel to work cooler, longer and safer, she wants them happier too.

Branson, head of OSU’s Department of Design, Housing and Merchandising in the College of Human Environmental Sciences has just completed a series of focus groups with emergency workers who are the first to respond to terrorist incidents or accidental spills. She learned it’s not just the heat inside those airtight suits that makes an already dangerous situation difficult.

"For instance, they told us they often withdraw their arms from the sleeves of the HAZMAT suit so they can remove blinding condensation from the interior of the hood face piece. That sort of information is especially helpful in considering the best way to design a tubing interface system between the components of the garment and the HAZMAT suit," says Branson.

She notes the emergency workers had plenty of recommendations about the cooling unit as well: "Could it be longer and thinner? Could it be positioned nearer the respirator?"

The liquid circulating garment, the cooling unit, and the interface systems between both units as well as the HAZMAT suit are the three major components of Branson’s research, funded by a 3-year, $3-million grant from the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. The project is entering its second year.

Branson and her team, which includes undergraduate and graduate students as well as OSU and Clemson faculty, are partnering with several private sector companies and government agencies, including the U.S. Army, to develop and evaluate the system in the next 18 months.

"By March, we will test the system on a thermal (heat-tracking) mannequin so that we can start testing on human subjects in a controlled environmental laboratory by year three," says Branson.

Story contact: Natalea Watkins, natalea@okstate.edu