What Is Disaster Triage?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Disaster triage is a form of triage typically utilized in a disaster situation such as a natural disaster, like an earthquake or hurricane. This can also be utilized in man-made disasters, such as bombings and attacks in which there are massive civilian casualties. Disaster triage typically begins by those who first arrive at the scene of a disaster, usually emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and continues as other medical personnel and emergency workers arrive on a scene. This usually takes the form of simple triage, and often involves the use of tags to indicate the treatment necessary for individuals.

While different forms of triage can be utilized in a crisis situation, disaster triage typically refers to a situation in which priority medical care must be assigned to those in greatest need. This type of triage begins with the arrival of “first responders” who are usually EMTs or other emergency personnel. These individuals arrive and begin assigning priority to various injured individuals at the scene of an emergency or disaster. While different types of disaster triage can be used in various countries and by different agencies, simple triage systems such as Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment (START) triage are quite common.


In general, disaster triage begins with an evaluation of the injuries people have sustained, and an analysis of how medical care might help those at a scene. Injured people are typically categorized into those who are “deceased,” those in need of “immediate” care, those who can receive “delayed” care, and the “walking wounded” who need only minor care. Those in need of immediate care are typically provided medical assistance first, with those who can receive delayed care next, and people with minor injuries often treated last. The deceased and those people whose injuries cannot be treated are often given final priority during disaster triage.

There are also some disaster triage situations in which reverse triage can be utilized. Reverse triage is a system in which those who are only lightly injured might receive treatment before those who are severely injured and in need of immediate or delayed medical assistance. This is often done in a situation in which some of the wounded can potentially assist others, such as if a natural disaster struck a hospital. When disaster triage is reversed, medical personnel who are only slightly injured can be helped first, which may then allow them to assist the other workers at the scene with further medical or emergency efforts.


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