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St. Louis Company Develops Unit For Military Transport Of Ebola Patients

As the Ebola epidemic grabbed the world’s attention last year, the U.S. military began to discuss how it could safely transport military personnel if they were infected with the contagious disease.

The answer was unveiled at Scott Air Force Base on Friday.

The Transport Isolation System was designed by Production Products, Inc., a St. Louis-based, minority-owned company. The co-founder and president, Barry Corona, said they started on the project in late October after winning the $6 million contract with the Department of Defense for 25 units.

"This is normally a two-year effort to develop something like this, test it, and get it to the point where all the users are happy with it, and that’s fast," Corona said. "We did this in about three and half months."

The company did have experience. It also created an isolation unit for Phoenix Air Group, which evacuated several American Ebola patients earlier this year. Corona said while his 38-year-old company has designed a lot of products, including military equipment, he said this stands out.

"Probably the most interesting and the most satisfying thing we’ve ever done is isolation systems that bring people back," he said, "Because we feel like we’re doing a part in saving their lives and that’s really important to us."

The Transport Isolation System, or TIS, is made up of a disposable plastic lining within a metal frame that includes an air filtration system. The structure is built on a pallet that can be moved on and off of military aircraft, including the C-17 and C-130.

The units can transport three infected patients at time. Suited medical personnel will be able to care for patients inside, while air crew and support staff are protected outside.

USTRANSCOM, Scott Air Force Base, ebola
Credit (courtesy U.S. Air Force)
Gen. Paul Selva, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, which is headquartered at Scott Air Force Base.

"This capability gives us the ability to move the patient in a completely isolated environment from the rest of the cargo and passengers on the airplane, and that’s a big deal," said Gen. Paul Selva, commander of U.S. Transportation Command.

The command, known as USTRANSCOM, is based at Scott Air Force Base and  manages all transportation for the Department of Defense. That includes the transport of 3,800 military personnel who have been deployed to West Africa since October.

Selva said having a local company come up with the solution for how to transport infected personnel was just good luck.  

"They had the expertise, and the fact that they’re right across the river and we’re able to have our medical experts interact all along the way in the design process got us a quicker outcome," he said.

Three of the units are ready for use, including the one on display at Scott on Friday. Selva said the 25 units will be kept ready for airlift along the East and West Coasts.

The Air Mobility Command, also headquartered at Scott, is responsible for all aero-medical evacuations of military personnel. Its director of operations, Maj. Gen. Scott Hanson, said the aircrews get wounded personnel out with a survival rate of 98 percent.

But he said contagious diseases, such as Ebola, have presented new challenges.

"Our commitment to bringing those folks home also comes with a commitment to protecting our crew members with the same level of protection and professionalism," Hanson said, "So to me, this is a great advancement."

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