Disaster planning and response to a mass casualty incident pose unique demands on the medical community. Because they would be required to confront many casualties with bodily injury and surgical problems, surgeons in particular must become better educated in disaster management. Compared with routine practice, triage principles in disasters require an entirely different approach to evaluation and care and often run counter to training and ethical values. An effective response to disaster and mass casualty events should focus on an "all hazards" approach, defined as the ability to adapt and apply fundamental disaster management principles universally to any mass casualty incident, whether caused by people or nature. Organizational tools such as the Incident Command System and the Hospital Incident Command System help to effect a rapid and coordinated response to specific situations. The United States federal government, through the National Response Plan, has the responsibility to respond quickly and efficiently to catastrophic incidents and to ensure critical life-saving assistance. International medical surgical response teams are capable of providing medical, surgical, and intensive care services in austere environments anywhere in the world.