Marian Benjamin

Marian Benjamin

Two emergency preparedness articles in one issue. Seems an appropriate time to talk about what role RTs can play in responding to disasters, whether they be earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, or acts of terror.

The National Disaster Medical System is in need of respiratory therapists; currently there are fewer than 100 in the system.1 The RTs would be part of disaster medical assistance teams (DMATs), teams of approximately 100 people who are clinical and nonclinical professionals. They are credentialed, trained, equipped, and ready for rapid deployment to areas of federal disaster where local resources are overwhelmed.

Today, the DMATs are seeing more critical care as well as pediatric patients, and there is also a need for RTs in shelters called Federal Medical Stations (FMS). The FMS program is a “federal deployable all-hazards medical assist” designed to support regional, state, and local health care agencies.2 In other words, they provide a fallback in case of a shortage of beds in hospitals. Individuals transported to FMS are often displaced people with chronic respiratory disorders, like asthma and COPD, and need nebulizer or aerosol treatment and delivery of medical gas. Federal Medical Stations can be located almost anywhere—warehouses, gymnasiums, stadiums, even airplane hangers, as long as it is 40,000 square feet for a 250-bed unit (smaller space may be used for smaller number bed units).

Members of DMATs volunteer their time for credentialing and training, but when deployed, they become employees of the Public Health Service, which is responsible for compensating them, based on federal rates and on the person’s position on the team.3

The teams are on call 2 months out of the year, and deployments are typically 2 weeks’ duration, although they may be shorter. In time of federal disaster, teams usually have 12 to 24 hours notice to have their equipment and personnel ready. Supervisor/employer permission is mandatory.

Respiratory therapists will have to go through a formal federal employment process, which includes credentialing and security investigations. The process takes between 6 months and a year. You can contact the National Disaster Medical System in Washington, DC, or contact a DMAT in your local area at

If you are like me, when you read about or see television coverage of disasters, you really wish there were something you could do. But what and how? Here is an opportunity to put your skills to work within a coordinated group that has all of the equipment needed to enable you to practice your profession and that will keep you safe—an opportunity, perhaps, to save the lives of people in harm’s way.

—Marian Benjamin

  1. Kallstrom T. The National Disaster Medical System wants you. AARC Times. October 2011:62-69.
  2. Federal Medical Station Program. Available at: Accessed October 13, 2011.
  3. FAQs. Available at: Accessed October 13, 2011.