The Measurement of Daily Surge and Its Relevance to Disaster Preparedness

Melissa L. McCarthy, Dominik Aronsky, Gabor D. Kelen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


This article reviews what is known about daily emergency department (ED) surge and ED surge capacity and illustrates its potential relevance during a catastrophic event. Daily ED surge is a sudden increase in the demand for ED services. There is no well-accepted, objective measure of daily ED surge. The authors propose that daily and catastrophic ED surge can be measured by the magnitude of the surge, as well as by the nature and severity of the illnesses and injuries that patients present with during the surge. The magnitude of an ED surge can be measured by the patient arrival rate per hour. The nature and severity of the surge can be measured by the type (e.g., trauma vs. infection vs. biohazard) and acuity (e.g., triage level) of the surge. Surge capacity is defined as the extent to which a system can respond to a rapid and sizeable increase in the demand for resources. ED surge capacity includes multiple dimensions, such as systems, space, staffing, and supplies. A multidimensional measure is needed that reflects both the core components and their relative contribution to ED surge capacity. Although many types of factors may influence ED surge capacity, relatively little formal research has been conducted in this area. A better understanding of daily ED surge capacity and influencing factors will improve our ability to simulate the potential impact that different types of catastrophic events may have on the surge capacity of hospital EDs nationwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1138-1141
Number of pages4
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2006


  • ED overcrowding
  • catastrophic surge
  • disaster preparedness
  • emergency department
  • surge capacity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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