Principles of emergency department facility design for optimal management of Mass-casualty incidents

Pinchas Halpern, Scott A. Goldberg*, Jimmy G. Keng, Kristi L. Koenig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: The Emergency Department (ED) is the triage, stabilization and disposition unit of the hospital during a mass-casualty incident (MCI). With most EDs already functioning at or over capacity, efficient management of an MCI requires optimization of all ED components. While the operational aspects of MCI management have been well described, the architectural/structural principles have not. Further, there are limited reports of the testing of ED design components in actual MCI events. The objective of this study is to outline the important infrastructural design components for optimization of ED response to an MCI, as developed, implemented, and repeatedly tested in one urban medical center.Report In the authors experience, the most important aspects of ED design for MCI have included external infrastructure and promoting rapid lockdown of the facility for security purposes; an ambulance bay permitting efficient vehicle flow and casualty discharge; strategic placement of the triage location; patient tracking techniques; planning adequate surge capacity for both patients and staff; sufficient command, control, communications, computers, and information; well-positioned and functional decontamination facilities; adequate, well-located and easily distributed medical supplies; and appropriately built and functioning essential services.Discussion Designing the ED to cope well with a large casualty surge during a disaster is not easy, and it may not be feasible for all EDs to implement all the necessary components. However, many of the components of an appropriate infrastructural design add minimal cost to the normal expenditures of building an ED. Conclusion: This study highlights the role of design and infrastructure in MCI preparedness in order to assist planners in improving their ED capabilities. Structural optimization calls for a paradigm shift in the concept of structural and operational ED design, but may be necessary in order to maximize surge capacity, department resilience, and patient and staff safety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-212
Number of pages9
JournalPrehospital and Disaster Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Disaster
  • Disaster planning
  • Emergency
  • Hospital design and construction
  • Mass-casualty incidents


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