Perceived preparedness for a mass casualty disaster in the United States: a survey

J Glick, M L Birnbaum
Prehospital and Disaster Medicine 1998, 13 (2): 28-43

INTRODUCTION: A mass casualty disaster (MCD) never has occurred in the United States, but such an event remains a fearful possibility. The purpose of this study was to establish baseline information concerning the perceptions relative to the capabilities of the United States to respond to a MCD of persons most likely to involved in the responses to such an event when it does occur.

METHODS: A survey was constructed in 1995 to query the perceptions of persons in authority in federal, state, and local agencies who would participate in the medical responses to a MCD. Participants were asked to select the most likely scenario, a hurricane or earthquake, that could generate 30,000 casualties within their respective region. The survey requested respondent's perceptions as to the timing of the federal responses and the quality and sufficiency of these responses. The survey also sought information about the availability of plans to meet such a catastrophe in the region, and the frequency with which such plans have been exercised. Responses were grouped by phase of the responses and whether the respondents were employed by federal, state, or local agencies. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize the data. When appropriate, a one-tailed t-test was used to compare the responses of the groups. A p-value = 0.05 was considered statistically significant.

RESULTS: A total of 104 surveys were distributed of which 88 were completed and returned (85%). Both the federal and state respondents had considerable experienced in this area. Overall, the federal respondents were more optimistic about the availability, utility, and timely arrival of federal resources to assist regions in meeting the medical needs. In each of the three phases of MCD responses evaluated (medical response, patient evacuation, and definitive care), there was concern that there were insufficient resources to meet the requirements. States and local respondents perceived that initially, they will be on their own for field rescue, life-supporting first-aid, and casualty evacuation. Respondents acknowledged that a combination of local, state, federal, and private resources eventually would be needed to meet the huge demand. Only 31% federal and 26% state/local respondents believed that there will be sufficient combined local, state, federal, and private resources to meet the requirements for the evacuation of casualties to definitive care facilities outside of the region, and another 50% acknowledged the resources would only partially meet these requirements. Sixty-eight percent of state/local respondents believed that there would be insufficient local, state, federal, and private definitive care resources to meet the requirements for definitive care.

CONCLUSIONS: While three years have elapsed since the survey was conducted and there have been some improvements in preparedness and responses, concerns center around the perceived lack of resource capability or lack of ability to get the resources to the MCD scene in time to meet requirements. Such perceptions by experienced professionals warrant further review by those at all levels of government responsible for planning and responding to mass casualty disasters.

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