The 1994 Northridge earthquake disaster response: the local emergency medical services agency experience

S J Stratton, V P Hastings, D Isbell, J Celentano, M Ascarrunz, C S Gunter, J Betance
Prehospital and Disaster Medicine 1996, 11 (3): 172-9

INTRODUCTION: This paper describes the 1994 Northridge earthquake experience of the local emergency medical services (EMS) agency. Discussed are means that should improve future local agency disaster responses.

METHODS: Data reported are descriptive and were collected from multiple independent sources, and can be reviewed publicly and confirmed. Validated data collected during the disaster by the Local EMS Agency also are reported.

RESULTS: The experience of the Los Angeles County EMS Agency was similar to that of earthquake disasters previously reported. Communication systems, water, food, shelter, sanitation means, power sources, and medical supplies were resources needed early in the disaster. Urban Search and Rescue Teams and Disaster Medical Assistance Teams were important elements in the response to the Northridge earthquake. The acute phase of the disaster ended within 48 to 72 hours and public health then became the predominant health-care issue. Locating community food and water supplies near shelters, providing transportation to medical care, and public-health visits to shelter locations helped prevent the development of long-term park encampments. An incident command system for the field, hospitals, and government responders was necessary for an organized response to the disaster.

CONCLUSION: Disaster preparedness, multiple forms of reliable communication, rapid mobilization of resources, and knowledge of available state and federal resources are necessary for a disaster response by a local EMS agency.

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