Disaster preparedness and disaster response should be a capability of all academic health centers. The authors explore the potential role and impact of academic medical centers (AMC)s in disaster response. The National Disaster Medical System and the evolution of disaster medical assistance teams (DMAT) are described, and the experience at one AMC with DMAT is reviewed. The recent deployment of a DMAT sponsored by an AMC to the Hurricane Katrina disaster is described, and the experience is used to illustrate the opportunities and challenges of future disaster medical training, research, and practice at AMCs. AMCs are encouraged to identify an appropriate academic unit to house and nurture disaster-preparedness activities, participate in education programs for health professionals and the public, and perform research on disaster epidemiology and response. Networks of AMCs offer the potential of acting as a critical resource for those AMCs stricken by a disaster and for communities needing the infusion of highly trained and motivated health care providers. The Association of American Medical Colleges can play a critical role in assisting and coordinating AMC networks through its relationship with all AMCs and the federal government and by increasing the awareness of medical educators and researchers about this important, emerging area of medical knowledge.
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