The academic health center in complex humanitarian emergencies: lessons learned from the 2010 Haiti earthquake

Acad Med. 2012 Nov;87(11):1609-15. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31826db6a2.


On January 12, 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. The event disrupted infrastructure and was marked by extreme morbidity and mortality. The global response to the disaster was rapid and immense, comprising multiple actors-including academic health centers (AHCs)-that provided assistance in the field and from home. The authors retrospectively examine the multidisciplinary approach that the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM) applied to postearthquake Haiti, which included the application of institutional structure and strategy, systematic deployment of teams tailored to evolving needs, and the actual response and recovery. The university mobilized significant human and material resources for deployment within 48 hours and sustained the effort for over four months. In partnership with international and local nongovernmental organizations as well as other AHCs, the UCM operated one of the largest and more efficient acute field hospitals in the country. The UCM's efforts in postearthquake Haiti provide insight into the role AHCs can play, including their strengths and limitations, in complex disasters. AHCs can provide necessary intellectual and material resources as well as technical expertise, but the cost and speed required for responding to an emergency, and ongoing domestic responsibilities, may limit the response of a large university and hospital system. The authors describe the strong institutional backing, the detailed predeployment planning and logistical support UCM provided, the engagement of faculty and staff who had previous experience in complex humanitarian emergencies, and the help of volunteers fluent in the local language which, together, made UCM's mission in postearthquake Haiti successful.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers / organization & administration*
  • Altruism*
  • Chicago
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Disasters*
  • Earthquakes*
  • Emergency Medical Services / organization & administration*
  • Equipment and Supplies
  • Haiti
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • International Cooperation
  • Mass Casualty Incidents*
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration
  • Relief Work / organization & administration*
  • Rescue Work / organization & administration*
  • Translating
  • Volunteers / organization & administration