Taking a Big-Data Approach: How a Hokie is Improving Critical Incident Response

Originally published in the Summer 2018 edition of Virginia Tech Magazine


Data analytics is Jason Dominiczak’s thing—his job, his life’s work, and his plain-old, freetime fun. And the world may be a better place for it.

By day, Dominiczak ’16 works for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte designing data-driven computer programs to sync university services, from acceptance letters to diplomas—the kind of back-end IT endeavors that go unnoticed, unless, of course, they don’t work.

“I enjoy being a part of the ‘grand plan’ to make better student services a reality,” said the graduate of Virginia Tech’s online Master of Information Technology (MIT) program. “I love analyzing problems and building solutions.”

But the problems of higher-education operations aren’t the only ones Dominiczak is looking to solve. On April 16, 2007, Dominiczak was the first tactical medic on scene at the Virginia Tech tragedy. At the time, he was a senior and captain of the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad, the second-oldest, all-volunteer, student-led campus EMS agency.

And while passion is an easily over-used word, it’s the only fitting way to describe Dominiczak’s ongoing drive to improve response in critical incident situations.

“Leading the rescue squad was a life-changing experience,” he said. Understanding how to learn from a bad situation and make things better became very important to many of us.”

In 2017, Dominiczak established a nonprofit enterprise working to pull out actionable data and create evidence-based guidelines that can improve medical response in high-threat situations. Known as the Barger Street Group (in honor of the rescue squad’s Blacksburg address), the endeavor has three goals: save lives, lessen severity, and take power from perpetrators.

As part of the Committee on Emergency Casualty Care (a civilian corollary to a Department of Defense committee), the Barger Street Group is applying data analytics to improve training, equipment, and protocols for first responders.

Dominiczak brings big-data skills to a table that includes physicians, first responders, and tactical medical personnel from around the country.

“I want to give back. I want us to be able to provide better care,” he said. “But it has to be data-driven, not anecdotal. I’m hoping to bridge that gap.”

After college, Dominiczak spent five years with the Virginia Tech Police Department as a patrol officer, SWAT operator, tactical medic, public safety diver, and firearms instructor. He has taught tactical medicine courses to thousands of federal, state, and local medics and physicians.

At a crossroads during his tenure with the police force, he enrolled in Virginia Tech’s MIT program. Coursework in decision sciences and health IT further strengthened his desire to look at available data and formalize the best practices for medical responses.

This spring, Dominiczak’s research on applying data analytics for improved patient safety in the ICU was published in the Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, an influential accreditation body in healthcare quality and patient safety. The final paper was co-authored with Lara Khansa, associate professor of business information technology and associate dean in the Pamplin College of Business.

“Our research is evidence of Jason’s fervor for evidence-based decision-making,” said Khansa. “It provides a framework for marrying real-time analysis of vast amounts of data with the necessary human controls to ensure more informed decision-making and better care in the ICU.”

Dominiczak’s research was born of a graduate assignment and a few beers shared with fellow rescue squad alums Colin Whitmore ’06 and Mike Russell ’77.

“We were talking about how medicine is still learning how to make maximum use of available data—in this case information generated by  hundreds of ICU pumps and monitors. I started thinking about aviation and the flight simulators I loved as a kid. Working with Dr. Khansa, we explored how to apply the same data-aggregating methodologies to medicine.”

Dominiczak credits Khansa and his MIT studies with fostering that  interdisciplinary mindset.

“One of the most valuable things for me was to put myself outside my comfort zone and try topics that weren’t related to what I was doing,” he said. “That diversity of exposure has made all the difference in shaping the way I attack problems and seek solutions.”

Oh, and here’s the free-time fun part: Dominiczak and his brother are avid competitors on Kaggle, an online platform where participants apply machine-learning tactics to some of the world’s most intractable problems—like predicting who will win March Madness or optimizing Santa’s gift delivery.

“Wherever there’s a problem,” said Jason, “there’s an answer in the data.”