As economic forces have reduced immediately available resources, the need to surge to meet patient care needs that exceed expectations has become an increasing challenge to the health care community. The potential patient care needs projected by pandemic influenza and bioterrorism catapulted medical surge to a critical capability in the list of national priorities, making it front-page news. Proposals to improve surge capacity are abundant; however, surge capacity is poorly defined and there is little evidence-based comprehensive planning. There are no validated measures of effectiveness to assess the efficacy of interventions. Before implementing programs and processes to manage surge capacity, it is imperative to validate assumptions and define the underlying components of surge. The functional components of health care and what is needed to rapidly increase capacity must be identified by all involved. Appropriate resources must be put into place to support planning factors. Using well-grounded scientific principles, the health care community can develop comprehensive programs to prioritize activities and link the necessary resources. Building seamless surge capacity will minimize loss and optimize outcomes regardless of the degree to which patient care needs exceed capability.