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Mass Disaster Victim Identification Essay

The United States and other countries around the world have faced major disasters throughout history. Perhaps the most notable and most remembered among these are the September 11 attacks in the United States, Oklahoma City bombing, and the Swissair Flight 111 crash in Nova Scotia. These and the other major disasters have one thing in common: the number of people who died. With numbers ranging from 50 and reaching as high as 2,000 casualties, the problem arises in identifying the victims. This is where the mass disaster victim identification comes in.

Methods were now developed for the identification. Fingerprints, DNA, dental records, and physical identification serve the purpose of identifying victims. Mass disasters are catastrophic events which result in a “substantial loss of life” and damages in properties, loss of livestock and crops. These, in turn, affect the resources of the community, further compounding their ability to respond to the tragedy. These tragedies become more common because of certain factors, such as terrorism, climatic conditions, etc.

the United States, and other countries as well, has experienced tragedies including fires, explosion, epidemics, natural calamities, building collapse, airplane crash, and other transportation accidents. These showed that there must be an efficient multidisciplinary approach to manage these tragedies (Fimate, 2002). The United States has endured many tragedies. These and the management have received public attention and were the subject of discussions. These led to the formulation of Mass Disaster Plan, including health care, search and rescue service, and preventive measures (Fimate, 2002).

There are some reasons why forensic laboratories and law enforcement identify the remains of mass disaster victims. First, the identification of victims is required by the society (Tilstone, Savage & Clark, 2006, p. 209) to respond to the human right of having an identity in life and in death. However, the identification of the dead is “essential for life of others to proceed and return to normalcy. ” In addition, the identification of victims borders on humanitarian reason. Bereaved families would want to have their dead kin a rightful funeral ritual according to their religious and cultural beliefs (Fimate, 2002).

Aside from this, some jurisdictions require identification before issuing a death certificate which would enable relatives of the victims to collect life insurance policies (Butler, 2005, p. 544). Around the world, and even in the United States alone, there have been many mass disasters involving the deaths of a number of people. Most of the bodies were separated, thus presenting a problem in identification. To solve this problem, there are available methods for identifying victims. However, not every country has adequate resources to make this possible. Take the Indian Ocean tsunami for example.

It killed an estimate of around 300,000 people. Only 5-6,000 bodies were identified with the help of identification methods, and most of these were foreigners. Bodies that were not identified were buried in mass graves. The failure in identifying the victims can be blamed on lack of resources or facilities. Another problem was the lack of predeath data such as dental records and fingerprints, as was the case in Sri Lanka. To avoid these problems from occurring them, there have been many improvements in technologies and services used to identify victims of mass disasters (University of Colorado at Boulder, 2006).

People find it relatively easy to identify a victim who has an intact body, but it will be a challenge when the victim has only mutilated remains, as is the case in mass disasters. This is where Forensic Pathologists come in, as they can identify victims through various methods (Fimate, 2002). In addition, identification of victims requires certain aspects such as genetics, biology, and technology. In response to the need of identifying the victims, there have been developments in this field. For instance, in the light of the September 11 attacks, the New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has new additions in their procedures.

There were: new DNA markers, otherwise called autosomal single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs); new genetic analysis, which was a software used for kinship analysis and remains purposes; and new technology which was identified as “mini short tandem repeat (STR) assays, high-through-put mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequencing, Trueallele). ” Without these advancements, many of the victims during the World Trade Center bombing would have been unidentified (Butler, 2005, p. 541). Biometrics Biometrics was dubbed to be the most effective means for the identification of victims during mass disasters.

When other methods are not available, biometrics can be a helpful and precise tool. Biometrics includes fingerprinting, DNA, physical identification, and dental records (Jennings and Chen, n. d. , pp. 4-5). Other methods for identification include medical condition, personal effects, and identifying marks (Tilstone, Savage & Clark, 2006, pp. 210-211). Fingerprinting. When the hand is not damaged, fingerprinting is the most effective and fastest means of victim identification (Tilstone, Savage & Clark, 2006, p210). This is because fingerprints are unique for each human and the details do not change.

However, obtaining a fingerprint will not be possible when the body is fast decomposing (Jennings and Chen, n. d. , p. 6). From the victims of the September 11 attacks, only 71 were identified through fingerprinting. In the Swissair Flight 111 crash, on the other hand, 30 victims were identified using this method (Jennings and Chen, n. d. , p. 11). DNA. Since the onset of the many advances in DNA testing, its usage has become routine and expected in mass disasters. DNA identification is very useful even if human remains are in pieces or burned.

Although there are certain instances when bodies can be identified visually, body parts can be separated. Thus, identification may be difficult. Without DNA techniques, the possibility of identifying the victim may be next to impossibility (Butler, 2005, p. 543). DNA testing is said to be the “gold standard for identification of human remains from mass disasters. ” DNA makes it possible to identify the victim through a biological sample. However, it is to be noted that DNA testing will be very effective if there is adequate DNA from the samples.

There are cases wherein the DNA is degraded as a result of the human remains being fragmented (DNA. gov, n. d. ). During the September 11 attacks on the World trade Center, identification of the victims was a very challenging task. There were around 14,249 body parts that researchers found, and they were trying to match the DNA samples from these body parts to the more than 2,000 missing people. More than half of the number was identified using the DNA analysis. Forensic scientists were also left with the task of identifying 20,000 human remains.

They tested some of these remains six times to obtain usable DNA. However, they were faced with the extreme heat and moisture from the mountain of debris (Tilstone, Savage & Clark, 2006, pp. 210-211). More than 600 of the World trade Center attack victims were identified though DNA testing (Jennings and Chen, n. d. , p. 10). More than 100 victims of the Swissair Flight 111 crash were identified (Jennings and Chen, n. d. , p. 11). One major advantage of DNA testing is that it can identify “each and every portion” of the human remains just as long as there is adequate intact DNA present in the remains.

There should also be a reference sample to compare the DNA to a living family relative. DNA can also be taken from the personal belongings of the victim (Butler, 2005, p. 542). However, there are downsides to using DNA testing. First of all, it can be time consuming and expensive. Furthermore, it is subject to contamination problems (Jennings and Chen, n. d. , p8). Physical identification. Although physical identification is less exact, it is still a capable method for victim identification. Medical operations, jewelry, scars, piercing, tattooing, and eye and hair colors are basis for identification.

However, these characteristics are sometimes not reliable because they can be present in a number of corpses. In addition, these physical features can be disfigured for some reasons. From the World trade Center attacks, 16 victims were identified through photographs (Jennings and Chen, n. d. , p. 9-10). Visual recognition can be unreliable when mutilation occurs, or emotional trauma affects the state of the corpse. Medical condition, on the other hand, can be useful for confirmation and elimination. The condition of the body is then compared to the medical history of the missing person.

If the missing person has congenital conditions, or has a chronic disease, the information will be very helpful for the identification process. In addition, broken bones and trauma such as scarring will speed the process of identification (Tilstone, Savage & Clark, 2006, p. 210). Furthermore, identifying marks such as tattoos and birthmarks are useful, provided that the skin where these marks are is not damaged (Tilstone, Savage & Clark, 2006, p. 210). Dental records. Dental records are also reliable method for victim identification because “dental patterns are unique for every individual.

” In addition, this is a very fast method, as a human expert can identify the dental records within a couple of hours. Identification through dental records has the highest rates in countries that have high quality healthcare and dental systems (Jennings and Chen, n. d. , p. 7). During the World trade Center attack, 188 victims were identified through dental records. In the Swissair Flight 111 crash, 90 victims were identified through dental x-rays (Jennings and Chen, n. d. , pp. 10-11). Some say that dental records are sometimes the only feasible method of identification of mass disasters victims.

This is because teeth can endure high temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees, partly due to the insulation provided by the palate and the cheeks. The reliability of this technique can be seen in its usage: 70% of accident cases use dental records (Hall, 1997). When using dental records for identification, there are some parameters that forensic odontologists consider. One of these is the dentition. This includes the shape, number, and position of the teeth. The other one is restorations done on the teeth and diseases present (Tilstone, Savage & Clark, 2006, p. 210).

Following the World trade Center attack, Personal effects. Personal effects include possessions such as jewelry, clothing, documents, and wallets. They can be used for identification if they are in good condition (Tilstone, Savage & Clark, 2006, p. 211). These things could also contain traces of DNA sample. Nineteen of victims of the World Trade Center attacks with the help of their personal effects (Jennings and Chen, n. d. , p. 10). All throughout history, countries around the world have experienced mass disasters that left their people with mutilated remains.

The desire of families to give their dead relatives a proper burial has encouraged law enforcement and forensic laboratories to identify mass victims. Furthermore, some jurisdictions require identification of the victim so that the family of the victim can collect life insurance policies. There were improvements with regards to the methods used to identify victims of mass disasters. Methods include fingerprinting, dental records, DNA testing, personal effects and physical identification. Fingerprinting is a reliable method, only if the fingers are not damaged.

Dental records are reliable and fast because, like fingerprints, teeth have patterns that are unique for each person. DNA, on the other hand, has been on the front lines of methods of victim identification. This was the method that has been used in many mass disasters. Personal effects are useful as well, and include the personal belongings of the victims that can be traced to them. Physical identification refers to body marks such as tattoos and scars. It also includes eyes and hair colors and birthmarks.

References Butler, J. M. (2005). Forensic DNA typing: biology, technology, and genetics of STR markers. United States: Academic Press. DNA. gov. (n. d. ). Chapter 1: Introduction. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from http://massfatality. dna. gov/Introduction/ Fimate, L. (2002). Role of forensic pathologist in mass disaster management. Manipur Online. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from http://www. manipuronline. com/Potpourri/October2002/forensicpathology20_1. htm Hall, L. L. (1997). Disasters and dental ID: New team speeds the task. University of Alabama at Birmingham. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from http://main. uab. edu/show. asp? durki=49270 Jennings, K. and Chen, Y. (n. d. ).

Applications of biometrics in mass disaster victim identification. Michigan State University. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from http://www. cse. msu. edu/~cse891/Sect601/CaseStudy/BiometricsDisasterVictimID. pdf Tilstone, W. J. , Savage, K. A. and Clark, L. A. (2006). Forensic science: An encyclopedia of history, methods, and techniques. United States: ABC-CLIO. University of Colorado at Boulder. (2006). Dealing with foreign dead: An evolution of mass-casualty identification. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from http://www. colorado. edu/hazards/o/archives/2006/may06/may06d. html


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