Mass casualty disasters: Who should run the show?

Rachel M. Russo, Joseph M Galante, Robert C. Jacoby, David V Shatz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background A clear command structure ensures quality patient care despite overwhelmed resources during a mass casualty incident (MCI). The American College of Surgeons has stated that surgeons should strive to occupy these leadership roles. Objective We sought to identify whether surgeons, as compared to emergency physicians, are sufficiently prepared to assume command in the event of a mass disaster. Methods We surveyed hospital-affiliated surgeons and emergency physicians to assess their knowledge of MCI response principles and to gauge opinions regarding who should be in charge during a disaster. Results One hundred and forty-nine (58%) surveys were completed, 78 by surgeons and 71 by emergency physicians. Both groups demonstrated a critical lack of knowledge regarding fundamental principles and key logistical components of preparedness and MCI response. Surgeons as a group were even less prepared than emergency physicians. Of those surgeons who had reviewed their hospital's disaster plan, half (50%) still did not know where to report for an MCI activation. Nonetheless, both groups believed they had sufficient training and both asserted they ought to occupy command positions during a disaster scenario. Conclusions Errors in disaster triage have been known to increase mortality as well as the monetary cost of disaster response. Funding exists to improve hospital preparedness, but surgeons are lagging behind emergency physicians in taking advantage of these opportunities. Overall, it is imperative that physicians improve their understanding of the MCI response protocols they will be tasked to implement should disaster strike.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)685-692
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • disaster
  • disaster management
  • incident command
  • mass casualty incident
  • triage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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