Mass casualty following unprecedented tornadic events in the southeast: Natural disaster outcomes at a level I trauma center

Elizabeth H. Hartmann, Nathan Creel, Jacob Lepard, Robert A. Maxwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


On April 27, 2011, an EF4 (enhanced Fujita scale) tornado struck a 48-mile path across northwest Georgia and southeast Tennessee. Traumatic injuries sustained during this tornado and others in one of the largest tornado outbreaks in history presented to the regional Level I trauma center, Erlanger Health System, in Chattanooga, TN. Patients were triaged per mass casualty protocols through an incident command center and triage officer. Medical staffing was increased to anticipate a large patient load. Records of patients admitted as a result of tornado-related injury were retrospectively reviewed and characterized by the injury patterns, demographics, procedures performed, length of stay, and complications. One hundred four adult patients were treated in the emergency department; of these, 28 (27%) patients required admission to the trauma service. Of those admitted, 16 (57%) were male with an age range of 21 to 87 years old and an average length of stay of 10.9 ± 11.8 days. Eleven (39%) patients required intensive care unit admissions. The most common injuries seen were those of soft tissue, bony fractures, and the chest. Interventions included tube thoracostomies, exploratory laparotomies, orthopedic fixations, soft tissue reconstructions, and craniotomy. All 28 patients admitted survived to discharge. Nineteen (68%) patients were discharged home, six (21%) went to a rehabilitation hospital, and three (11%) were transferred to skilled nursing facilities. Emergency preparedness and organization are key elements in effectively treating victims of natural disasters. Those victims who survive the initial tornadic event and present to a Level I trauma center have low mortality. Like in our experience, triage protocols need to be implemented to quickly and effectively manage mass injuries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)770-773
Number of pages4
JournalAmerican Surgeon
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes


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