Medical professionals from the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM) are training medics at Joint Base Charleston on the use of the Transport Isolation System (TIS) to move patients affected by COVID-19 aboard military cargo aircraft.
The TIS is an infectious disease containment unit designed to minimize risk to aircrew and medical attendants, while allowing in-flight medical care for patients afflicted by contagions like COVID-19. The TIS represents an important tool in USAF Air Mobility Command (AMC)’s COVID-19 response to safely transport patients afflicted by the virus.
First implemented after the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, the TIS was engineered to ensure patients get the proper treatment in the event they become infected with any contagious disease during missions to affected areas, according to a news release from the Air Force Medical Service.
The TIS training includes TIS familiarization, donning and doffing PPE procedures, exercising patient loading/unloading procedures, simulated in-flight patient care, and didactics in strict adherence to infection control procedures, vital to patient and crew safety. The training prior to launch also includes other pre-mission planning activities to ensure the highest level of patient care and safest transport operations.
A TIS, in its basic configuration, consists of one antechamber module (AM) and two isolation modules (IM), each on its own modified 463L aircraft pallet. The TIS can fly on C-130H Hercules, C-130J Super Hercules, and C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft. For additional capacity, the C-17 is able to transport two TIS units.
These pallets are retrofitted with watertight enclosures and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems to contain both airborne and non-airborne pathogens. The AM provides medical crew members with an enclosed space to safely decontaminate and remove their personal protective equipment (PPE) before exiting, while the IMs are where patient care occurs.
Each TIS can hold two litter patients, stacked securely for evacuation, or four ambulatory patients, those who can walk with little to no assistance. TIS allows medical personnel to use all medical supplies and equipment carried by Aeromedical Evacuation (AE) crews and Critical Care Air Transport Teams and allows for the same level of care available on any USAF AE mission.
In September 2014, during Operation United Assistance in support of the Ebola outbreak, United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) identified the need to move patients exposed to High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID) out of the African theater of operations to the continental United States. This requirement was tasked to United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), which then created a Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement. In December 2014, the TIS passed Safe to Fly testing. In January 2015, USTRANSCOM accepted the initial TIS capability.