US Navy Ship-Based Disaster Response: Lessons Learned

Tamara J. Worlton*, Alfred F. Shwayhat, Michael Baird, Daryl Fick, Kyle D. Gadbois, Shane Jensen, Matthew D. Tadlock

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Purpose of Review: The US Navy has a long history of responding to disasters around the globe. US Navy ships have unique characteristics and capabilities that determine their capacity for a disaster response. This paper discusses common considerations and lessons learned from three distinct disaster missions. Recent Findings: The 2010 earthquake in Haiti had a robust response with multiple US Navy ship platforms. It was best assessed in three phases: an initial mass casualty response, a subacute response, and a humanitarian response. The 2017 response to Hurricane Maria had a significant focus on treating patients with acute needs secondary to chronic illnesses to decrease the burden on the local healthcare system. The COVID-19 response brought distinctive challenges as it was the first mission where hospital ships were utilized in an infectious disease deployment. Summary: The first ships to respond to a disaster will need to focus on triage and acute traumatic injury. After this first phase, the ship’s medical assets will need to focus on providing care in a disrupted health care system which most often includes acute exacerbations of chronic disease. Surgeons must be ready to be flexible in their responsibilities, be competent with end-of-life care, and negotiate technical and cultural communication challenges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-146
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Trauma Reports
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Disaster medicine
  • Hospital ships
  • Humanitarian surgery
  • Military medicine
  • Military ships
  • Military surgery


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