Health insurers and health reform programs have focused in recent years mainly on finding ways to get rid of costly, little-used acute care hospital beds.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), are now organizing a research project that could increase pressure to keep some of that spare hospital capacity in place.

The researchers are organizing a survey of all hospitals to see how well prepared they are for the mass casualties that might come from bombings, non-bombing explosions, and natural disasters.

In the past, the CDC says, researchers have looked at preparedness at specific types of hospitals, or preparedness for all types of mass casualties, but not at disaster preparedness at many different types of hospitals and hospital departments.

“These types of incidents can inflict severe multisystem injuries on numerous individuals and produce unique challenges to health care providers and the systems that support them,” officials say in a description of the survey project. “Additionally, unlike the gradual influx of patients after events such as infectious disease outbreaks or heat waves, the surge of patients after an explosion or natural disaster typically occurs within minutes of the event and can quickly overwhelm nearby hospital resources. This potential for mass casualties and an immediate surge of patients may stress and limit the ability of EMS systems, hospitals, and other health care facilities to care for the critically injured victims.”

Survey organizers expect to approach 400 hospitals and get about 320 completed survey questionnaires.