Principles of emergency management in disasters

Adv Ren Replace Ther. 2003 Apr;10(2):117-21. doi: 10.1053/jarr.2003.50019.


The organizational and medical conduct in disaster situations is complex and presents a challenge to every manager in the prehospital setting. The handling of such situations is characterized by the need to make decisions under uncertainty in real time, with deficient medical and support forces. The approach used in mass casualty incident situations is cycles of treatment, commonly known as the "butterfly system." There are serious logistic problems involved, both industrial and structural, physical obstacles that may interfere with rescue treatment and evacuation, disruption in communications, and many other difficulties. On top of these, there are other obstacles such as interruption with the cooperation and coordination of different force, enforcement and rescue teams, the press, inquisitive people, and others. However, the most serious problem of all is the tendency in complex situations to attempt to work with fixed preformed guidelines or protocols for operation. One disaster differs from another, regarding location, number of casualties, distribution, severity, type of injury and the nature of injury, size of available rescue teams, time and equipment needs, damage to roads, distance from hospital, and other variables. One of the most important lessons learned from the management of such incidents is do not set fixed protocols but rather principles only. By applying principles adapted to the situation, managers will be able to perform better.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disaster Planning / organization & administration*
  • Disasters*
  • Emergency Medical Service Communication Systems
  • Emergency Medical Services / organization & administration*
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Problem Solving
  • Rescue Work
  • Urban Population