Public health preparedness for mass-casualty events: a 2002 state-by-state assessment

N Clay Mann, Ellen MacKenzie, Cheryl Anderson
Prehospital and Disaster Medicine 2004, 19 (3): 245-55

INTRODUCTION: The ongoing threat of a terrorist attack places public agencies under increasing pressure to ensure readiness in the event of a disaster. Yet, little published information exists regarding the current state of readiness, which would allow local and regional organizations to develop disaster preparedness plans that would function seamlessly across service areas. The objective of this study is to characterize state-level disaster readiness soon after September 2001 and correlate readiness with existing programs providing an organized response to medical emergencies.

METHODS: During the first quarter of 2002, a cross-sectional survey assessing five components of disaster readiness was administered in all 50 states. The five components of disaster readiness included: (1) statewide disaster planning; (2) coordination; (3) training; (4) resource capacity; and (5) preparedness for biological/chemical terrorism.

RESULTS: Most states reported the presence of a statewide disaster plan (94%), but few are tested by activation (48%), and still fewer contain a bioterrorism component (38%). All states have designated disaster operations centers (100%), but few states have an operating communications system linking health and medical resources (36%). Approximately half of states offer disaster training to medical professionals; about 10% of states require the training. Between 22-48% of states have various contingency plans to treat victims when service capacity is exceeded. Biochemical protective equipment for health professionals is lacking in all but one state, and only 10% of states indicate that all hospitals have decontamination capabilities. States with a functioning statewide trauma system were significantly more likely to possess key attributes of a functioning disaster readiness plan.

CONCLUSION: These findings suggest that disaster plans are prevalent among states. However, key programs and policies were noticeably absent. Communication systems remain fragmented and adequate training programs and protective equipment for health personnel are markedly lacking. Statewide trauma systems may provide a framework upon which to build future medical disaster readiness capacity.

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