H1N1 Crisis Could Swamp Intensive Care Units

"If you want health care providers to show up to work in a disaster, endure physical risk for themselves, work around the clock in austere conditions and take on hardship duties, you have to make sure their sacrifice doesn't leave them at unnecessary risk," Powell said. "If they are making good faith choices and following guidelines, they should be protected from unnecessary harm as well as unnecessary legal harm."

But Powell maintained that patients need to be legally protected as well if they receive negligent care or treatment from an unqualified person.

While neither state officials nor hospitals need to adhere to the guidelines outlined in the IOM, they may be a useful planning tool for the challenging decisions about resource allocation necessitated by pervasive situations, such as pandemic influenza, or catastrophic disasters, such as hurricane or earthquake.

"These guidelines can't be lightly invoked ... your whole facility has to be up against a wall," Powel said. "Disaster has to be declared by a government entity and even then you need permission to operate under a crisis standard of care."

ABC News' Courtney Hutchison contributed to this report.

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