Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 17, 2006

Fixing the National Disaster Medical System

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on January 17, 2006

USA Today has a story tonight on the National Disaster Medical System, and the calls to retool it in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:

Emergency medical teams that rush in to save lives after a natural disaster or terrorist attack don’t have necessary supplies, training or staff and should be overhauled, according to members of Congress, former Bush administration officials and team leaders….

Amid the continuing danger of terrorism and the specter of a flu pandemic, team members and health experts said it’s essential that the government maintain a robust emergency medical response system. The teams often provide the only medical care during the first hours after a catastrophe.

“The NDMS does not meet the expectations of our citizens,” said Jeffrey Lowell, who served as senior medical adviser to former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge. “We need and expect much more.”

The articles goes on to detail some of the challenges faced by NDMS teams during the Katrina response, such as teams showing up in New Orleans but lacking the medical supplies that they would need to provide emergency medical care.

For more on the problems of the NDMS, see this report by the minority staff of the House Reform Committee from last December.

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1 Comment »


Comment by William R. Cumming

January 18, 2006 @ 3:53 am

The NDMS has a checkered history. Originally established to provide 100,000 additional beds for casualties from warfighting, it was a voluntary organization of federal health care providers. Essentially, in any sudden catastrophe 700 critically injured persons in any SMSA in the United States would overload the health care system in that SMSA. No comprehensive system of logistics, personnel augmentation. or surge capacity exists to deal with multiple medical situations of that size occurring in the United States. Published plans (available to the public) by federal, state,and local governments do not provide assurances that they represent anything more than a suggested commitment by those levels of government and do not contain a planning basis that would reflect a full-scale requirements study for injuries in a mass casualty event. No accurate inventory of domestic U.S. medical resources exists that includes personnel, supplies, and priority and allocation systems.

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