Objectives: The aim of this qualitative, retrospective review is to identify and analyze the occurrence of recurrent problems in 20 processes that cover all relevant aspects of disaster health during the response phase. Consequently, an attempt is made to determine if there are generic themes of coherences in these problems.
Methods: Eight after-action reports of five consecutive disasters in the Netherlands, between 1996 and 2005, were integrally analyzed in a structured manner. The analysis was confined to processes from the start of the event up to and including the initial stages of hospital admission.
Results: Problems during all five disasters arose with eight processes: (1) submission of information to the ambulance dispatch center (ADC); (2) provision of information by the ADC to disaster response personnel; (3) scaling-up of prehospital response; (4) communication; (5) logistics; (6) registration; (7) multidisciplinary cooperation; and (8) preparation. Three generic themes of coherence were identified: (1) processes in which exchange of information among medical personal plays a major role are more likely to be affected by problems than processes in which this is less relevant; (2) processes in which disaster circumstances differ from day-to-day health care, or do not figure in day-to-day health care, are more likely to give rise to problems than processes that remain essentially similar; and (3) the existence of a protocol or disaster plan governing a process does not prevent problems.
Conclusions: The method used enables a systematic analysis of the problems in health-related processes following five consecutive disasters. The analysis confirms that the majority of problems are repeated. The identified themes of coherences are in agreement with case reports and expert opinions. They are now supported with a higher level of evidence.