Learning From Japan Strengthening US Emergency Care And Disaster Response
Author: Parveen Parmar, Maya Arii, Stephanie Kayden
As Hurricane Katrina demonstrated in 2005, US health response systems for disasters—typically designed to handle only short-term mass-casualty events—are inadequately prepared for disasters that result in large-scale population displacements. Similarly, after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, Japan found that many of its disaster shelters failed to meet international standards for long-term provision of basic needs and health care for the vulnerable populations that sought refuge in the shelters. Hospital disaster plans had not been tested and turned out to be inadequate, and emergency communication equipment did not function. We make policy recommendations that aim to improve US responses to mass-displacement disasters based on Japan’s 2011 experience. First, response systems must provide for the extended care of large populations of chronically ill and vulnerable people. Second, policies should ensure that shelters meet or exceed international standards for the provision of food, water, sanitation, and privacy. Third, hospital disaster plans should include redundant communication systems and sufficient emergency provisions for both staff and patients. Finally, there must be routine drills for responses to mass-displacement disasters so that areas needing improvement can be uncovered before an emergency occurs.