Emergency Preparedness in health care terms is the readiness for unexpected lethal or harmful events requiring more resources than the local health care infrastructure can provide. Traditionally, this has focused on mass casualty trauma and natural disasters but, depending on the a region’s capability, may be a smaller event that outstrips the local system.

Since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, emergency planners, and specifically those in the health care sector, have become more aware of the need to be prepared to deal with mass casualty events involving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) substances in addition to trauma. The SARS experience in Ontario highlights the urgent need for health care emergency preparedness in all areas of Canada; natural disasters and infectious disease outbreaks may occur anywhere and any time.

Emergency planning for a disaster involves large numbers of agencies at all levels of government as well as non-governmental organizations. Federal, provincial and municipal governmental agencies are mandated to develop emergency response plans, but often do so in isolation from one another. Health care facilities and personnel sometimes participate in municipal, provincial and even federal plans, but are often neglected by traditional emergency planners. This lack of coordinated planning will likely lead to a disorganized and ineffective disaster response with the attendant financial costs, social disruption and health morbidity and mortality.

Health Sector Requirements in Emergency Preparedness

Physicians, nurses, other health care professionals, hospital administrators, health planners and funding agencies have specific and unique requirements in emergency planning development. Nonetheless, these planning initiatives must be integrated with emergency management as a whole at all levels of planning.

Components of health care emergency preparedness may include:


  • Standards for mitigation, preparedness, protection, response and recovery

  • Tools for risk assessment

  • Templates for risk management

  • Reliable and valid methodologies for assessment of compliance with the standards, and risk management strategies

  • Educational programs for providers

  • A consistent incident management tool for health care

  • Integrated response plans with other health care providers

  • Integrated response plans with emergency response providers

  • Access to funding/resources to support the health component of integrated response

  • An objective third party certifying agency to assess readiness of health care organizations