The U.S. National Disaster Medical System in decline

Published 14 December 2005

FEMA is not the only agency the decline of which was accelerated by being folded into DHS: NDMS is another sad example

The National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) has the primary responsibility of providing emergency medical care after a national disaster, whether natural or man-made. The past few years have not been kind to NDMS, as a combination of poor management, bureaucratic reshuffling, and inadequate funding have hobbled, if not crippled, the ability of NDMS to provide emergency medical care in the wake of a disaster. These and other conclusions are part of a report prepared by the House Government Reform Committee’s minority staff.

The steady decline of NDMS is not exactly a secret. A 2002 internal Health and Human Services (HHS) report warned of the program’s growing weakness, pointing especially to inadequate funding and the absence of coherent doctrine and standards. The disintegration of this important program was accelerated when it was transferred from HHS to DHS when the latter was created in 2003. A 2005 report prepared by the medical adviser to former DHS secretary Tom Ridge concluded that NDMS’s “medical response capability is fragmented and ill-prepared to deal with mass-casualty event.”

-read more in this report; and see the congressional report