Was That an Earthquake?

New Zealand highlights need to develop emergency disaster plan

(RxWiki News) Natural disasters can strike at any time - and it is best to be prepared. But how effective are such plans, really? Do they actually save lives? A new report says yes - they do.

On February 22nd, 2011, an earthquake struck the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. There were 182 casualties and over 6,500 people reported injured in the first 24 hours.

According to researchers, a well prepared staff and disaster plan helped to reduce the death rate and the severity of injuries.

"Does your family have a plan in case of disaster?"

“The hospital activated well developed and practised internal and external incident plans and the response of other non-acute hospitals and primary care facilities was critical to ensuring an effective and timely response", explains Michael Ardagh, PhD, from the University of Otago, New Zealand.

The hospital mentioned by Ardagh was the only in Christchurch with an emergency department. It was also partially damaged by the earthquake itself, and this made the emergency response especially challenging.

Lack of electricity and communication systems only added to the challenge.

In order to address communication issues radiotelephones were made available to key staff and med students were sent to get updates from TV broadcasts.

An open-air ambulance bay was used to treat some patients because of building damage.

According to the report, the quality of the response was due to a mass casualty incident plan that was created by the city after a similar earthquake struck the area in 2010.

However, unforeseen problems arose. For example, the hospital had trouble keeping track of patients without its normal electronic system. Additionally, the report notes that better integration between facilities, especially those who normally do not deal with emergencies, would help in the event of another emergency.

The information in the report can be used to help create better disaster response plans.

The report was published online April 16th, 2012, in the journal The Lancet and was funded by the Emergency Care Co-ordination Teams and Emergency Care Foundation.

Study authors report the following conflicts of interest: Michael W Ardagh is chair of the Rhise Group, is National Clinical Director of Emergency Department Services with the Ministry of Health (New Zealand, NZ), and is a trustee of the Emergency Care Foundation. Sandra K Richardson has funding from AKO Aotearoa New Zealand National Institute for teaching and earthquake health care research. Martin Than has funding from the Canterbury Community Trust (NZ), Health Research Council (NZ), and the National Heart Foundation (NZ) for unrelated research, and is a trustee of the Emergency Care Foundation. Joanne M Deely received funding from the Emergency Co-ordination Teams and Emergency Care Foundation for medical writing. 

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Review Date: 
April 15, 2012