A hospital needs to be able to handle a sudden or unexpected influx of patients. This is often included in disaster preparedness planning.


Types of sudden patient surges:

(1) natural disaster

(2) war

(3) pandemic


The influx results in a shortage of resources. This may be general or limited to certain resources such as:

(1) mechanical ventilators

(2) ICU beds

(3) dialysis machines


The response to a sudden surge usually entails:

(1) triaging patients with release of minor cases

(2) delaying elective procedures

(3) diverting patients to other facilities

(4) discharging patients as soon as possible (including transfer to nursing homes)

(5) setting up emergency hospitals (mobile, other)

(6) expanding workforce (overtime, influx from outside)


The surge capacity status may be color coded to improve communication. In the following table there could be additional levels (below normal with staff reduction, critical).


Operational Status

Admission and Discharge Planning

Color Code




near capacity

facilitate discharges, consider delaying elective admissions


full capacity

facilitate discharges, delay elective admissions, divert admissions when feasible, set up emergency hospitals



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