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Minerva Medicolegale 2009 March;129(1):35-46


language: English

Disaster victim identification: a review

Blau S., Hill A.

Department of Forensic Medicine, Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine Monash University, Victoria, Australia


This paper provides an in-depth review of disaster victim identification (DVI), that is, the procedures used to positively identify deceased victims of a multiple casualty event. Initially, ‘identification’ is defined and the social and legal importance of identifying deceased individuals following natural or human-made disasters is discussed. The paper highlights the point that while the techniques used to identify those missing as a result of armed conflict or those lost as a result of a disaster will be the same, the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and the outcome of the investigation are vastly different. The range of extreme forces associated with different disasters is described. The possible resulting effects of such forces on the human body are outlined, highlighting the need for practitioners dealing with deceased individuals following a mass disaster to have expertise in human anatomy and an understanding of how taphonomic processes such as heat, fire, and kinetic force affect bodies. A description of ‘closed’ and ‘open’ disasters and the potential impact on identification is provided. This is followed by a detailed discussion of the DVI process including the personnel potentially involved and the 5 phases of investigation and analysis. In detailing the 5 DVI phases the ideal procedures are described as well recognized difficulties and limitations of each method. A brief discussion is provided of issues associated with the management of dead bodies. The methods of identification including visual, fingerprints, DNA, dentition and property are presented with a discussion of the associated advantages and limitations. The paper concludes by examining the increased awareness of the importance of disaster management planning including improving DVI capabilities. Some examples are provided of recent DVI training exercises.

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