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Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2011 Mar;5 Suppl 1:S20-31. doi: 10.1001/dmp.2011.25.

Allocation of scarce resources after a nuclear detonation: setting the context.

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  • 1Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Department of Health and Human Services, USA.


The purpose of this article is to set the context for this special issue of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness on the allocation of scarce resources in an improvised nuclear device incident. A nuclear detonation occurs when a sufficient amount of fissile material is brought suddenly together to reach critical mass and cause an explosion. Although the chance of a nuclear detonation is thought to be small, the consequences are potentially catastrophic, so planning for an effective medical response is necessary, albeit complex. A substantial nuclear detonation will result in physical effects and a great number of casualties that will require an organized medical response to save lives. With this type of incident, the demand for resources to treat casualties will far exceed what is available. To meet the goal of providing medical care (including symptomatic/palliative care) with fairness as the underlying ethical principle, planning for allocation of scarce resources among all involved sectors needs to be integrated and practiced. With thoughtful and realistic planning, the medical response in the chaotic environment may be made more effective and efficient for both victims and medical responders.

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