Purpose of review: The severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic of 2002-2003, recent natural catastrophes, burgeoning concerns regarding intentional catastrophes, and the looming threat of an influenza pandemic have focused attention on large-scale, survivable respiratory failure. In this article, we review appropriate medical equipment, treatment space, and strategies to augment health professional staff in response to a massive increase in need for sustained critical care.
Recent findings: There is insufficient modern healthcare experience with mass casualty respiratory failure to develop evidence-based preparedness efforts. For this reason, initial efforts to augment critical care capability in response to disasters have relied on extrapolation from the routine critical care knowledge base, military medicine, critical care transport, and expert opinion. We review recently published documents on augmenting supplies of positive pressure ventilation equipment, ongoing projects for increasing health professional staff, and infection control issues during epidemics.
Summary: Mass casualty respiratory failure remains a largely unstudied field, but we believe informed decisions about equipment stockpiling and use, the development of creative operational concepts to increase staffing, and the careful implementation of rational infection control practices can lay a foundation for an appropriate response until additional data become available.