The global response to the 12 January 2010 earthquake in Haiti revealed the ability to mobilise medical teams quickly and effectively when academic medical centres partner non-governmental organisations (NGO) that already have a presence in a zone of devastation. Most established NGOs based in a certain region are accustomed to managing the medical conditions that are common to that area and will need additional and specialised support to treat the flux of myriad injured persons. Furthermore, an NGO with an established presence in a region prior to a disaster appears better positioned to provide sustained recovery and rehabilitation relief. Academic medical centres can supply these essential specialised resources for a prolonged time. This relationship between NGOs and academic medical centres should be further developed prior to another disaster response. This model has great potential with regard to the rapid preparation and worldwide deployment of skilled medical and surgical teams when needed following a disaster, as well as to the subsequent critical recovery phase.