Disasters are serious disruptions to the functioning of a community that exceed its capacity to cope with its own resources. Disasters can be caused by natural, man-made and technological hazards, as well as by various factors that influence a community's exposure and vulnerability. In the following sections, I provide an overview of some natural and man-made disasters, specific clinical entities related to disasters, disaster planning, and the future of disaster medicine. The media described the industrialized world's response to the Guatemalan disaster as the “second disaster.” And today's black anger at police officers is fueled by historical economic disparities and by the economic disaster of the past decade.
In the 1970s, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) developed the Incident Command System, a military-type command center that is installed at or near a disaster site. Around the world, major disasters occur every day and natural disasters that require international assistance occur weekly. Baylor University Medical Center's disaster plan includes an activation plan, a command center (which is the emergency department), traffic flow, classification, decontamination, treatment areas, special areas (such as family areas and a morgue), and evacuation. The National Disaster Medical System is another disaster relief program; it began in 1981 and consists of teams of disaster volunteers (currently 61 of them) who can meet quickly and move to the disaster site.
Contrary to what most people thought before 1976, the corpses of a disaster don't spread disease, so burying corpses is no longer an immediate priority. The total number of deaths from American disasters from 1900 to 1967 is minimal compared to the number of road deaths of 53,000 in 1967 alone. An example of an infectious disease following a disaster is pulmonary coccidioidomycosis, which was observed after the 1994 Northridge earthquake due to increased dust levels.