Disaster Victim Identification (DVI)

By Anna Sandiford 24/02/2011

Sadly, it looks as though the recovery in Christchurch involves not only remarkable stories of the living but also devastating stories of the deceased.

In response to a phone call I had today, I just write briefly about what may happen in terms of identification of those who have been or are yet to be recovered.  In the past few years, Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) and/or specialist Search and Rescue teams have had to deal with many significant tragedies, some of them caused by humans (such as 9/11, July 2005 London Tube and bus bombings) and some as the result of the forces of nature (Indonesian tsunami, Haiti earthquake, Victorian bushfires, Queensland floods…).  Now I look at it, the list goes on for both natural events and human-related events…and there are more.

New Zealand has had its fair share, what with Pike River and now this year’s Christchurch earthquake.

The issues now being managed in Christchurch, in part, relate to identifying the remains of those who died in the last few days.  Some of the victims will have identification on them, which will aid the ID process.  Some people may not.  Depending on the individual situation, a combination of specialists may be required in order to confirm an identification.

Pathologists/coroners may determine, where possible, the cause of death and deal with certain issues around handling of the remains.

Forensic dentists may be required in situations where the individual is not easily recognisable for a visual identification to be undertaken but where the dental records may be able to assist.

The Biology team of ESR Forensic is likely to be involved with processing samples for determining DNA profiles.  DNA analyses were well-used after the 9/11 Twin Tower events because sometimes this was the best way to attempt identification.

Let’s hope that the recovery work can be quick and identification swift  so that these people can be released to family and whanau so they can be laid to rest.

(see also my previous post, about a year ago on identification of victims of mass disasters)