Lessons learned from the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake of 1995 underscored the necessity of establishing Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) in Japan, and in 2005, the Japanese government's Central Disaster Prevention Council revised its Basic Disaster Management Plan to include full deployment of DMATs in disaster areas. Defining a DMAT as a trained, mobile, self-contained medical team that can act in the acute phase of a disaster (48 to 72 hours after its occurrence) to provide medical treatment in the devastated area, the revised plan called for the training of DMAT personnel for rapid deployment to any area of the country hit by a disaster. This paper presents descriptive data on the number and types of missions carried out by Japan DMAT (J-DMAT) in its first 5 years, and clarifies how J-DMAT differs from its counterpart in the United States (US-DMAT). The DMAT that the present authors belong to has been deployed for 2 natural disasters and 1 man-made disaster, and the operations carried out during these deployments are analyzed. Reports on J-DMAT activities published from 2004 through 2009 by the Japanese Association for Disaster Medicine are also included in the analysis. After training courses for J-DMAT personnel started in fiscal 2004, J-DMATs were deployed for 8 disasters in a period of 4 years. Five of these were natural disasters, and 3 man-made. Of the 5 natural disasters, 3 were earthquakes, and of the 3 man-made disasters, 2 were derailment accidents. Unlike in the United States, where hurricanes and floods account for the greatest number of DMAT deployments, earthquakes cause the largest number of disasters in Japan. Because Japan is small in comparison with the US (Japan has about 1/25 the land area of the US), most J-DMATs head for devastated areas by car from their respective hospitals. This is one reason why J-DMATs are smaller and more agile than US-DMATs. Another difference is that J-DMATs' activities following earthquakes involve providing treatment in confined spaces, triage, and stabilization of injuries: these services are required in the acute phase of a disaster, but the critical period is over in a much shorter time than in the case of water-related disasters. In response the kind of man-made disasters that occur in Japan-mainly transportation accidents, and occasional cases of random street violence-J-DMATs need to be deployed as soon as possible to provide medical services at the scene at the critical stage of the disaster. This means that J-DMATs have to be compact. The fact that J-DMATs are smaller and more agile than US-DMATs is a result of the types of disaster that hit Japan and the relatively small size of the country.
2010 by the Medical Association of Nippon Medical School