The 26 December 2004 Tsunami resulted in a death toll of >270,000 persons, making it the most lethal tsunami in recorded history. This article presents performance data observations and the lessons learned by a civilian team dispatched by the Australian government to “provide clinical and surgical functions and to make public health assessments”. The team, prepared and equipped for deployment four days after the event, arrived at its destination 13 days after the Tsunami. Aspiration pneumonia, tetanus, and extensive soft tissue wounds of the lower extremities were the prominent injuries encountered. Surgical techniques had to be adapted to work in the austere environment. The lessons learned included: (1) the importance of team member selection; (2) strategies for self-sufficiency; (3) personnel readiness and health considerations; (4) face-to-face handover; (5) coordination and liaison; (6) the characteristics of injuries; (7) the importance of protocols for patient discharge and hospital staffing; and (8) requirements for interpreter services.
Whereas disaster medical relief teams will be required in the future, the composition and equipment needs will differ according to the nature of the disaster. National teams should be on standby for international response.