Coping with the challenges of early disaster response: 24 years of field hospital experience after earthquakes

Elhanan Bar-On, Avi Abargel, Kobi Peleg, Yitshak Kreiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective To propose strategies and recommendations for future planning and deployment of field hospitals after earthquakes by comparing the experience of 4 field hospitals deployed by The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Medical Corps in Armenia, Turkey, India and Haiti. Methods Quantitative data regarding the earthquakes were collected from published sources; data regarding hospital activity were collected from IDF records; and qualitative information was obtained from structured interviews with key figures involved in the missions. Results The hospitals started operating between 89 and 262 hours after the earthquakes. Their sizes ranged from 25 to 72 beds, and their personnel numbered between 34 and 100. The number of patients treated varied from 1111 to 2400. The proportion of earthquake-related diagnoses ranged from 28% to 67% (P <.001), with hospitalization rates between 3% and 66% (P <.001) and surgical rates from 1% to 24% (P <.001). Conclusions In spite of characteristic scenarios and injury patterns after earthquakes, patient caseload and treatment requirements varied widely. The variables affecting the patient profile most significantly were time until deployment, total number of injured, availability of adjacent medical facilities, and possibility of evacuation from the disaster area. When deploying a field hospital in the early phase after an earthquake, a wide variability in patient caseload should be anticipated. Customization is difficult due to the paucity of information. Therefore, early deployment necessitates full logistic self-sufficiency and operational versatility. Also, collaboration with local and international medical teams can greatly enhance treatment capabilities. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2013;0:1-8)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-498
Number of pages8
JournalDisaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • disaster
  • earthquake
  • field hospital


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