Susan M. Briggs, a trauma surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, established and became the first director of the International Medical Surgical Response Team (IMSuRT), an emergency response team that, on short notice, organizes and sends teams of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals from throughout New England to emergencies around the globe.
Dr. Briggs graduated from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in 1974 and an M.P.H. in international health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1998. She is an attending general and vascular surgeon and associate director of the trauma service at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is also an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.
On September 11, 2001, Dr. Briggs had just finished a routine procedure when she got a call from the Office of Emergency Preparedness in Washington, D.C. She quickly assembled a team of some sixty Boston-area medical professionals. Within hours, they were on their way to New York City, to provide disaster relief following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
The group she led was a unit of the International Medical Surgical Response Team (IMSuRT) and the Metro Boston Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT). It was also part of the National Disaster Medical System. IMSuRT members work as volunteers in bringing emergency care to victims of disaster. Their services include triage (a system of sorting and treating patients according to the severity of their medical condition), medical treatment, support for local medical staffs, and preparation for patient evacuation.
Three months before September 11, Briggs's DMAT team had rehearsed for a mass disaster in a drill with the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other federal departments and agencies. They had also acquired experience in the U.S. and abroad in emergencies ranging from Hurricane Andrew in Florida to an earthquake in Turkey. Despite their preparation, the medical volunteers found the scene at Ground Zero in New York to be unlike that of any previous disaster. Their mission to aid victims of the World Trade Center collapse became an effort to support and care for rescue workers. Teamwork, adaptability, and creativity enabled these medical volunteers to meet the challenge.
Carrying sleeping bags and backpacks filled with personal essentials and medical supplies, they spent the first night at New York's Stewart Air Force Base. Because their planned site for a medical station had also been destroyed, they set up an alternative site on September 13. IMSuRT volunteers worked round the clock for the next nine days, caring for more than five thousand workers.
"Natural and man-made disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, industrial accidents, terrorists attacks and transportation accidents all present major challenges to disaster medical personnel," Briggs says. "Every disaster leaves behind devastated and disrupted lives. Our volunteer members are ready, with extremely short notice, to assist in catastrophes around the world."