Center for Disaster Medicine

Center for Disaster Medicine

The Center for Disaster Medicine is dedicated to improving public health and health system capabilities in all four phases of emergency preparedness: planning, mitigation, response and recovery.

About this Program

The Center for Disaster Medicine (CDM) has three main goals:

  • Educate physicians, nurses, and administrative staff about their roles and responsibilities in potential disaster events.
  • Work with state and local partners to improve our collective policies and plans for emergency response to health threats.
  • Conduct research to improve the nation’s preparedness and emergency response plans.

Led by Dr. Paul Biddinger, the CDM is closely integrated with the hospital emergency preparedness program and is supported by participation from clinicians on the MGH Department of Emergency Medicine faculty as well as MGH ED nursing and MGH ED administration.

Paul Biddinger shares insight lessons from Emergency Preparedness as part of a collection of videos used by managers around the world in the broader business community to improve their leadership skills.

Clinical Activities

CDM and hospital emergency management program members meet regularly with the leadership of many hospital departments and divisions including trauma surgery, nursing, the hospital safety office, and others. CDP designs and conducts regular training events and exercises within MGH to develop, disseminate and test emergency plans. The CDM and the MGH EP program support standing committees at MGH that address overall emergency planning and preparedness, as well as preparedness for hazardous materials, and planning for hospital evacuation. The CDM designs and conducts between three and six full-scale exercises each year dealing with mass casualty, chemical hazards, and radiological hazards. among others. All of the faculty members in the MGH Department of Emergency Medicine are required to participate in a CDM-sponsored activity at least once every three years.

In addition to the regularly scheduled exercises referenced above, in the past five years, the CDM has led hospital-wide preparedness exercises at MGH involving the following scenarios:

  • fire in the OR suite
  • helicopter crach on the helipad
  • pediatric mass casualty event
  • outbreak of a novel airborne infectious disease
  • information systems failure

Educational Programs


The CDM is a participant in the HMS Disaster Section, led by Dr. Gregory Ciottone of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, participating in the structure and design decisions of the overall program and opportunities for fellows. This Section (comprised of faculty from most of the Harvard teaching hospitals’ Departments of Emergency Medicine) has collectively developed a fellowship in Disaster Medicine (DM). The DM fellowship program is designed to provide qualified emergency physicians the opportunity to develop an expertise in the related fields of Disaster Medicine (DM) and Emergency Management (EM).

Fellows are based at one institution, but receive training experiences and education at all of the participating institutions. The two year program includes didactic lectures, seminars, readings, goal-related research in a specific area of DM and EM, and fieldwork resulting in a thesis. Upon completion of this fellowship, fellows are skilled in all aspects of the disaster cycle and have the ability to assume a leadership role on the local, regional, federal, or international level in the area of Disaster Medicine and Emergency Management. After graduation, fellows can assume a leadership position and be active in research and academics, eventually becoming an internationally noted expert. The MGH CDM has hosted fellows from the disaster section in its lectures and preparedness exercises, and fellows have met with Dr. Biddinger for mentorship.

Residency Training

Residents in the Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency (HAEMR) receive regular lectures from CDM faculty as part of their core curriculum including:

  • Disaster triage and treatment
  • Medical surge management
  • Management of blast injuries
  • Management of biological, chemical and radiological hazards

In addition, residents are encouraged to complete an eight-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Operations-level Hazardous Materials training developed and sponsored by the CDM to allow them to safely wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in a hazardous materials event. Residents are also given multiple opportunities each year to participate in exercises to further advance their training in disaster response.

Medical Students

Medical students from Harvard Medical School, and also those visiting from other medical schools, are included in the HAEMR disaster curriculum lectures. In addition, medical students at MGH are invited to participate in the MGH disaster exercise program.

Post-graduate Education/Invited Presentations

Members of the Center for Disaster Medicine have been invited to speak at local, national, and international events on topics of emergency preparedness and response. To date, CDM members have led more than 50 local and regional training events and have been invited to speak more than 70 times on emergency preparedness and response. Dr. Biddinger also leads a 2.5 credit course at the Harvard School of Public Health entitled “Public Health Response to Mass Emergencies.”

Research Activities

Dr. Biddinger has completed work on various CDC-funded projects to conduct both research and trainings on topics of emergency preparedness. These projects have received more than $5 million in funding over the lives of the grants. He has also completed work on four separate AHRQ-funded research projects on disaster preparedness, and one Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)-funded research event in 2009. Dr. Biddinger is also the principal investigator on numerous statewide preparedness projects in Massachusetts funded by the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR) via the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Since 2005, the CDM has published 17 peer-reviewed articles, 12 non-peer reviewed articles, chapters and reports, and presented 24 abstracts at national conferences.

Community Services

Members of the CDM represent MGH on several committees that impact the community of Boston:

  • Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals (COBTH) Disaster Committee
  • Boston Healthcare Preparedness Coalition 
  • Boston Urban Area Strategic Initiative (UASI)
  • Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS) committee
  • Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH): Dr. Biddinger has served as an advisor on planning for standards of care in disaster situations, and currently serves as a consultant on health emergency preparedness.

The MGH Hazmat Team has won a special citation from the Mayor’s Office of the City of Boston, and is one of the most active hospital-based programs in the state. Its training curriculum was given to, and has been incorporated into, the federally-funded DelValle Institute for Emergency Preparedness in Boston.



  • Be Prepared - Mass General Emergency Preparedness Training Video (captioned)

    Be Prepared - Mass General Emergency Preparedness Training Video

    This training video will discuss the hospital’s response to many types of disasters that could impact the normal operations of the hospital as well as the surrounding community. Mass General takes great pride in our responsibility to prepare to serve our diverse communities in times of need. In addition, the video provides an overview of the roles Mass General employees may be asked to play in a coordinated hospital response.

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