Disaster relief is an interdisciplinary field dealing with the organizational processes that help prepare for and carry out all emergency functions necessary to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies and disasters caused by all hazards, whether natural, technological, or human-made. Although it is an important function of local and national governing in the developed countries, it is often wanting in resource-poor, developing countries where, increasingly, catastrophic disasters tend to occur and have the greatest adverse consequences. The devastating January 12, 2010, Haiti earthquake is a case study of the impact of an extreme cataclysm in one of the poorest and most unprepared settings imaginable. As such, it offers useful lessons that are applicable elsewhere in the developing world. Emergency preparedness includes 4 phases: mitigation or prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. Periods of normalcy are the best times to develop disaster preparedness plans. In resource-poor countries, where dealing with the expenses of daily living is already a burden, such planning is often neglected; and, when disasters strike, it is often with great delay that the assistance from international community can be deployed. In this increasingly interconnected world, the Haiti earthquake and the important international response to it make a strong case for a more proactive intervention of the international community in all phases of emergency management in developing countries, including in mitigation and preparedness, and not just in response and recovery. Predisaster planning can maximize the results of the international assistance and decrease the human and material tolls of inevitable disasters. There should be a minimum standard of preparedness that every country has to maintain and the international assistance to achieve that. International academic medical centers interested in global health could strengthen their programs by prospectively including in them contingency planning for international relief operations. Healthcare professionals of these institutions who travel to disaster zones should rigorously prepare themselves and make provisions for collecting and reporting data, which will enrich the knowledge of this growing activity.
© 2011 Mount Sinai School of Medicine.