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Evolving Need for Alternative Triage Management in Public Health Emergencies: A Hurricane Katrina Case Study

  • Kelly R. Klein, Paul E. Pepe, Frederick M. Burkle, Nanci E. Nagel and Raymond E. Swienton...


In many countries, traditional medical planning for disasters developed largely in response to battlefield and multiple casualty incidents, generally involving corporal injuries. The mass evacuation of a metropolitan population in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina evolved into life-and-death triage scenarios involving thousands of patients with nontraumatic illnesses and special medical needs. Although unprecedented in the United States, triage management needs for this disaster were similar to other large-scale public health emergencies, both natural and human-generated, that occurred globally in the past half-century. The need for alternative triage-management processes similar to the methodologies of other global mass public health emergencies is illustrated through the experience of disaster medical assistance teams in the first 3 days following Katrina's landfall. The immediate establishment of disaster-specific, consensus-based, public health emergency–related triage protocols—developed with ethical and legal expertise and a renewed focus on multidimensional, multifactorial matrix decision-making processes—is strongly recommended. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2008;2(Suppl 1):S40–S44)


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr Paul E. Pepe, Emergency Medicine Administration, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 5323 Harry Hines Blvd, Mailcode 8579, Dallas, TX 75390-8890(e-mail:


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