Humanitarian Health Action

Purpose statements for panels and sessions

WHO Conference on the Health Aspects of the Tsunami Disaster in Asia


Panel 2.16: Forensic aspects of disaster casualty management

Overview of Victim Identification in the Tsunami Disaster

Dr. Pongruk Sribanditmongkol, Medical Examiner, Chiang Mai University

The Tsunami attacked many countries on the coast of the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2005 and caused nearly 217,000 deaths. In Thailand there were 5,935 reported deaths; approximately half of these were foreign tourists. Thailand, may be the only affected country that tried to identify all of the victims. This number of deaths in a single incident has overwhelmed Thai authorities and many other countries. Without a mass fatality plan for numerous deaths, the Thai government examined and identified bodies with limited resources but were later supported by the international communities. The management of victim identification in Thailand will be discussed as well as the experiences of the Thai DVI teams in this disaster. Recommendations to improve identification processes in mass fatality events will be proposed.

Resource Factors in Mass Fatality Management

Tom Brondolo, Deputy Commissioner, New York City Medical Examiners Office

Terrorist attacks, dense urban environments, high capacity transport, and emerging infectious agents increase the potential for larger mass fatality incidents and present new challenges to Medical examiners and emergency response personnel. Computer technology and DNA science provide new tools for meeting this challenge but require new skill sets and resources. Medical Examiners need a methodology for characterizing mass fatality incidents (MFI’s) and identifying the resource requirements needed to manage these incidents. This presentation will look at four factors, across three MFI’s that characterize an incident so proper resource allocations can be made. These factors, the existence of a manifest, condition of the remains, rate of recovery of the remains, and number of victims will impact the length of the process, the ability to determine the cause and manner of death, and identification of the deceased . The timely application of response resources has implications for both the forensic community and for the public health aspects of managing a disaster.

Mass fatality management in protecting public health

Barbara Butcher, MPH, Director of Investigations, NYC OCME

As we plan for our response to disasters, whether natural, the result of terrorism, or infectious agent outbreaks, the possibility of mass fatalities grows as new threats emerge. We will outline a flexible plan for mass fatality management that is adaptable to multiple events, and discuss the methods by which effective management can contain the threat to public health.

Why DNA?

Theresa Caragine PhD, Forensic Scientist, NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner

The identification of disaster victims is a multi-disciplinary effort requiring the expertise of police, medical examiners, and forensic scientists. We will outline the primary modalities of identification, and then focus on the instances in which DNA is the only resort. Methods of sampling, kinship analysis, and sources of error will be discussed, with the presentation of an actual case in which all modalities were needed to find the source of error. Additionally, we will briefly discuss our research in electron-beam irradiation for decontamination of infectious remains while maintaining the integrity of the DNA, a subject that may prove timely as we face the threat of global pandemics.

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