• Ozzie Paez

Coping with mass casualty events

Previous posts in this series dealt with lessons learned after a mass casualty event – 9/11. This one focuses on mounting disasters that lead to mass casualty scenarios when demands for medical services exceed available capacity. Mounting disasters should be modeled as processes, not events, with lower casualty peaks, but larger casualty totals spread over weeks and months. Two examples from 2020 were the COVID pandemic and western wildfires.

COVID’s spread across North America pushed multiple healthcare systems to their breaking point. Federal and State agencies also struggled coping with growing demands for emergency and ICU services. In parallel, devastating fires across America’s West threatened towns, cities, and large metropolitan areas. These mounting disasters overwhelmed some healthcare systems and threatened medical facilities. Responders, medical, and support staffs also faced risks coping with growing demands for emergency care.


Strategies based on short-term staff surges are not sustainable in mounting disaster scenarios. To improve preparedness, healthcare systems need strategies designed to cope with unexpected short and long-term peak demands for emergency care.

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