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Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) Management Decisions

Info: 10216 words (41 pages) Dissertation
Published: 6th Sep 2021

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Tagged: International StudiesManagement



Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) is a global concern. Mass fatality incidents (MFI) can occur not only through natural but also man-made catastrophes. Identification of disaster victim is more advanced in the society of today but represents one of the most challenging tasks that authorities are facing. This is because of the impact disasters have, as the amount of people who are travelling increases, the amount of people who are involved in the disaster increases. It is the country in which the event occurred responsibility to provide rescue and identification of victims however, often the possibility of the involvement of that country is also affected. This means it is important that particular countries whose nationals were involved come together and participate in teams to improve and speed up the identification process.

This study analyses major management decisions that are carried out within Disaster Victim Identification (DVI), especially decisions that were made during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. The objectives are to try and establish why decisions were made and how future projects have benefited from these decisions and how they have increased the number of identifications.

In the background of DVI, this study shows how important it is to identify victims for legal reasons but also for family members. DVI teams work in a way that involves the help of different experts to work together towards the identification of victims. [1] The highest possible quality standards should be applied by following the international recognised INTERPOL DVI guide. Many countries use the guide when a disaster occurs and have successful victim identification. However, the problem is insufficient or missing AM data, as this is needed to positively identify victims.

This paper focuses on how the process within DVI is applied and how important it is to expand the process including measures for future identification.[2]

It also shows how the DVI in the 2004 case was the most complex and significant in the history of DVI. [3] Research shows that without the development of the INTERPOL DVI procedures and the way they was able to deal with such a large number of victims, this operation would not have been possible.[4]


This dissertation would have not been possible without the help from so many people in different ways. First, I would like to thank my boyfriend and my family for being so supportive and for putting up with my behavior during this stressful time. Without this constant support and encouragement, it would have not been possible for me to get this far and to achieve what I have.

I would like to thank Claire Williamson, my dissertation advisor for being patient receiving my finished dissertation and for giving me advice to her best ability and showing me how to present the work. I would also like to thank the rest of the tutors from my course who have provided me with information from personal knowledge and thought provoking suggestions that has helped tremendously towards my dissertation which has given me the motivation I needed.

I am lucky to have faith from people telling me I can complete this study when I thought I wouldn’t be able to. They’re the people who got me through it.

Table of Contents



List of Abbreviations……………………………………………


Case Study: 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami


Management of Disaster Victim Identification

Literature Review



List of Abbreviations

AM Ante-Mortem
CT Commuted Tomography
DVI Disaster Victim Identification
ESRI Environmental Systems Research Institute
FCO Foreign and Commonwealth Office
GIS Geographical Information Systems
GPS Global Positioning Systems
IB Identification Board
INTERPOL International Criminal Police Organisation
MFI Mass Fatality Incident
PM Post-Mortem
RDT Rapid Deployment Team
SIM Senior Identification Manager
TTVI Thai Tsunami Victim Identification


i.1 What is Disaster Victim Identification?

The term ‘disaster’ can mean different meanings to different people or organisations. It is important to know what type of disaster that is being dealt with as the number and physical state of the victims that are going to be processed can differ. [5] This means that you could be dealing with victims recovered from different environments and you may have the whole body to deal with or only certain body parts, which can dictate what identification methods, need to be used or not used.[6]

The other category of a disaster relates to how easy it is to identify friends and relatives of the victim so information from identification of evidence can be obtained from them.[7] These are closed and open disasters. An “open” disaster is a catastrophe that results in the death of an unknown individual where there is no prior information available, so it is difficult in obtaining data. A “closed” disaster is defined as a catastrophe, which leads to the death of individuals who are identifiable (e.g. a plane crash).[8]

Every disaster produces victims, however people or organisations may not know that they were a victim at the time of the disaster. It may take a long time after the disaster that they are identified as victims.[9] In what follows identification of the dead in a disaster shall only be concentrated on, although the other victims may need to be identified so that they can receive the appropriate support and treatment needed.[10]

i.2 Research Questions

Throughout this study several research questions are used to find out the management decisions that were made during the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification (TTVI) operation. The decisions have been assessed to decide whether they increase the number of identifications and whether they improved the accuracy of the identifications made. The research questions are:

  1. What is the most effective and efficient response structure for DVI?
  2. Have there been any improvements made within future DVI incidents since the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami?
  3. What were the management decisions made in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami?
  4. What are the guidelines used and how are they effective?
  5. Have there been any improvements made within future DVI incidents?
  6. What were the lessons learnt from the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami that can be applied to future DVI projects?

The research will try to recognise the most effective strategies that are used in order to identify disaster victims effectively and efficiently, so that in future mass incidents more victims will be identified. The research can be helpful to future MFI’s by assisting mass fatality managers as new DVI strategies are developed. By examining the management decisions that were made in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami will show how the decisions made and the techniques used which helped the identification process but also improved the strategies for other incidents.

i.3 Objectives

My objective is to draw the knowledge gained from the Boxing Day Tsunami to establish procedures that can be applied to the management within future incidents. An extreme amount of knowledge was learnt from the Boxing Day Tsunami and this knowledge should be used for future incidents and for those seeking guidance. This dissertation will also contribute critical evaluations on DVI literature, as the literature on DVI that is currently available is minimal. There are many articles, which state what, happened within the incident and how it was carried out but there is little articles to say what was learned from the incident and what can be done differently next time.

Case Study: 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami

i.4 Background

On 26 December 2004 at 0800 in Phuket, Thailand, an earthquake, which was said to be the largest in forty years, caused a Tsunami responsible for more than 280,000 deaths in thirteen countries.[11] Up to five million people were affected by the tsunami and in recorded history it is the largest number of deaths caused by a tsunami. [12]

The earthquake measured 9.1 on the Richter scale and one of the main side effects from earthquakes of this magnitude is subduction. Subduction is the process of the large rigid plates that makes up the earths surfaces slips under one another. The earthquake struck where the water was shallow meaning the energy that was released was equivalent to 23,000 atomic bombs.[13] A tsunami is the transmission of a huge release of energy through water. [14] Out in the ocean no wave can be seen and no one would be aware of the passage of the energy pulse. It is only at the meeting between land and sea that the energy is converted into movement of water. This movement is also not a single event as the subduction can create a sequence of pulses and occurring landmasses can bounce and strengthen the energy in a pattern that is difficult to predict.[15] This shows, as in Sri Lanka the second wave was the deadliest and in parts of Thailand it was the third.[16] Within 15 minutes of the earthquake, tsunami waves of up to 30 metres began hitting the coasts of Aceh at the northern tip of Sumatra, which was the hardest hit country.[17] Waves moved progressively across the Indian Ocean, striking Malaysia (68), Thailand (5,400), Myanmar (90), Bangladesh (2), India (11,000), Sri Lanka (38,000), the Maldive (82) & Seychelle Islands (2), and the East African cost of Tanzania (10), Kenya (1) and Somalia (300).[18]

Many local people and tourists, who came to see the Thailand Andaman coast, were either injured or lost their lives. Official reports, specified there were 8,457 injured, of which 72% were Thais and 28% were foreigners and 5,395 dead of which 37% were Thais, 42% foreigners and 21% unidentified.[19] This incredibly high human cost was far beyond the expectation and experience of the nation as a massive scale disaster like this had never happened before and a management plan had never been set up.[20]

A Tsunami is a common occurrence in the Pacific Ocean and there is a warning system that alerts vulnerable populations to the risk. However, in the Indian Ocean a tsunami is much rarer and there is no warning system. (Tsnumai Support UK) A warning system has two components, detecting the potential threat and then being able to contact the correct people about the threat and to ensure action is taken. It happens that the Pacific warning system actually did detect the earthquake and that a likely tsunami may occur but they had no one to contact. (Tsunami Facts 2004)

i.5 The Casualties

The disaster was known to be the world’s deadliest tsunami and the exact death toll is unknown. There were approximately over 230,000 people killed and over half a million people injured by the waves in 14 different countries.[21] Indonesia was worst affected with the most human losses and physical damage. According to Oxfam, five million people were affected of which 1.7m were made homeless. More than 1,000 of those killed were German and Swedish tourists. [22]

According to a report, Oxfam international stated, “up to four times as many women as men died in the Boxing Day Asian Tsunami.” [23]

Four villages, which were surveyed in district of North Aceh, Indonesia that was badly hit, an average of 77% of the fatalities, were women. Data, which was collected from Cuddalore district of Tami Nadu in southern India, produced a figure of 73% female fatalities. Also, evidence from Sri Lanka suggested that about two thirds of those who died were women. The reasons for this varied but it is said that many men were away from home or fishing so had more time to flee the tsunami. Women were at home with their children, so trying to save their children slowed down them getting away from the tsunami.[24]

i.6 Response to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami

The response phase began immediately after the waves began to withdraw and the emergency crew started their work in a matter of hours, as it was the most important phase for saving lives. One of the first tasks was to check the integrity of the structure of buildings to see whether they were safe or not and to stop building from collapsing and causing more deaths. They were also checked to determine if any buildings could still be occupied. The emergency personnel responded to drowning’s, victims stuck on rooftops or caught under debris.[25] Alongside this, aid workers set up temporary shelters and staging areas in selected buildings that were stable. Due to some of the areas affected being popular international tourist destinations, embassies started to call their own citizens, and created a hotline so that family members of tourists could find out whether their loved ones were safe.[26]

As the magnitude of the earthquake was so large it involved many local and foreign people and organisations.[27] The government agencies and emergency response personnel from each affected country need to know the following questions:

  1. What geographical areas have been affected?
  2. What is the population in the affected areas?
  3. What was the extent of damage to the infrastructure?
  4. What type of equipment is needed for the response, where is it located and what is the quickest route to get it there?
  5. Where will temporary shelters be placed?
  6. What areas are vulnerable to aftershock or following events?

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) helped in answering many of the above-mentioned questions. This could be seen when Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) in Thailand used videos from vans and helicopters with Global Positioning System (GPS) data to aid in finding what areas were affected over large geographical area.[28] It was crucial in response efforts that the information was captured and sent to other stakeholders very quickly.[29]


i.7 Introduction

The International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) play an important role within various parts of criminal investigations, missing person files, human trafficking, smuggling of drugs and contraband, and other crimes that extend across international boundaries.[30] INTERPOL was created in 1923 and is the only internationally recognised legislation on DVI. They recommend that all 187-member countries should follow and adopt a procedure for identifying victims in any type of disaster.[31] The principles contained are subject to international agreement through INTERPOL as they maintain a command centre and a crisis management support group. When a mass fatality in a member country takes place, INTERPOL coordinates the international response.[32] The INTERPOL’S Disaster Victim Identification Guide provides the DVI process, which adopts the importance to treat victims with respect and dignity whilst following the standards.[33]

i.8 DVI Guide

The Standing Committee of DVI published the first DVI manual in 1984. Since then, many disasters have occurred throughout the world and from this the Standing Committee continues to recommend that the content of the manual is re-examined to take into account the lessons learned from various responses used to each particular disaster and the advancements in victim identification techniques.[34] The guide defines a disaster as an unexpected event that causes death or injury to more than one person.

The manual is always being reviewed and updated regularly, thus resulting in the most recent publication of the DVI Guide (2008).[35] The Standing Committee of the INTERPOL focus’s on the efficiency and effectiveness of disaster handling and the identification procedures in particular. The guide cannot address every possibility but they give practical advice on the major issues contained in victim identification and emphasise the importance of preplanning and training.[36] It Is hoped that from this preparation and awareness, the potential demands and difficult situations that police and science services face within a response will contribute to successful operations and therefore, all involved, especially victims, their relatives and other agencies will benefit.[37]

In order to achieve, maintain and improve the standards that are contained, INTERPOL recommends that each member country create one or more disaster victim identification Teams.[38] The INTERPOL DVI Guide describes the process including 3 key steps. These are recovery and examination of bodies to establish post-mortem evidence from the deceased, search for ante-mortem information for possible victims and the comparison of ante-mortem and post-mortem data.[39]

i.9 Senior Identification Manager

The senior identification manager (SIM) is in charge of managing all the DVI parts on behalf of the police service. The golden commander, who assumes and retains overall command for the operation or incident, employs the SIM is a police role and they must have attended the national accredited SIM course.[40]

i.10 DVI Phases

The management of a DVI operation is separated into five different phases; they each have its own area of responsibility and coordination.

i.10.1 Phase 1 – Scene

As a general rule, the scene should be treated as a crime scene and all human remains; exhibits and property should be left in situ until the arrival of Crime Scene Examiners and DVI Specialist Teams, following the jurisdictional policies and procedures.

How the scenes are processed and the order that it is undertaken depends on the nature of the disaster. The DVI Scene Coordinator is responsible for the management of procedures during the DVI operation. Once a scene management plan is created and agreed upon and DVI procedures can be commenced, the process of photographing, recorded on the INTERPOL DVI Recovery forms. (INT)

i.10.2 Phase 2 – Post-Mortem

Human remains that have been recovered from the scene have to be processed, examined and stored in mortuary. The mortuary may be an established mortuary or one that has been made temporally for the operation. (INT)

During this phase, the examination processes and methods are applied including photography, ridgeology (fingerprinting), radiology, odontology, DNA sampling and autopsy procedures. Property items of victims, which may include, jewellery, personal effects and clothing are to be examined, cleaned and stored. All post-mortem information obtained during this phase is recorded on the pink INTERPOL DVI Post-Mortem forms. (SRIBANDITMONGKOL) Depending on the satisfaction of the Coroner or legal authority the human remains are returned to storage, once the examination process is completed.

The DVI Post-Mortem Coordination is responsible for the management and outcomes of procedures during the post-mortem phase of the operation. (INT)

i.10.3 Phase 3 – Ante-Mortem

An ante-mortem collection process needs to be made, in order to collect missing person data to match against the victim data. This process can involve many difficult situations as the task involves interviewing families, relatives or friends to gather sufficient facts on a potentially deceased loved one. Also, representatives from this phase may need to closely manage their activities with other agencies, jurisdictions or nations, to protect ante-mortem data from distant locations. (INT)

Primarily, the ante-mortem phase will focus on creating a missing person list that will be developed from concerned reports from families and relatives. From these missing person’s reports, interview or investigation teams will be formed who will collect detailed descriptions of each missing person or potential victim. Including specific details such as jewellery, clothing, dental and medical records, photographs, DNA, fingerprint and other identifiable specifics. This information is recorded on a yellow INTERPOL DVI ante-mortem form. (INT)

When there is reliable and adequate ante-mortem data on a specific missing person, the file that is relevant will be evaluated closely. If certain data is matched against the post-mortem data then the file is transferred to the Reconciliation Centre to progress the identification process.

The DVI Ante-Mortem Coordinator is responsible for the management of activities during this phase of the DVI operation.

i.10.4 Phase 4 – Reconciliation

The Reconciliation Centre’s purpose is to try and match post-mortem data with ante-mortem data to be able to identify the deceased. In cases where reliable identifiers are available and meet the requisite standards can be prepared and sent to the identification board. Once the files are assessed and the data available is considered reliable and safe to accomplish positive identity, an Identification Board (IB) is assembled. (INT) The results from the PM and AM information are presented to the IB, supervised by a Coroner or someone equivalent. The Coroner or an equivalent authority, which is responsible for the identification of the deceased, is then informed of these results and provided with a comparison report and an Identification certificate for each human remain identified, including human remains that are fragmented. (Disaster victim identification)

If the Coroner or local authority accepts the identification, a death certificate will be issued, confirming the cause of death and the identity of the decease. An authority for the release of the deceased is then put into place and then arrangements are made for deportation of the deceased to the respective family. (INT)

i.11 DVI Unit

The DVI Unit is small compared to other headquarter units, however the impact that has been made by the police officers within the unit has been profound. This is especially true when Specialised Officers from the DVI Unit work along side other specialists from the Operational Police Support Directorate in response to catastrophes. When a disaster has occurred, dedicated officers come together and support a response to help local governments and authorities to create the best possible DVI response according to ascertained international standards.[41] They do this by dividing the unit into several teams which are given duties to carry out, usually the recovery and collection of evidence, obtaining ante-mortem (AM) and post-mortem (PM) data and then come together to finally reach the identification. An innovation, which helped INTERPOL in identifying disaster victims and has proven very beneficial over time, is introducing AM and PM forms.[42]

The ante-mortem information on a missing person who may be potential victims of a disaster are recorded on yellow INTERPOL AM forms. This information is usually retrieved from doctors, relatives or friends of the victim. The form has a number of sections including, identifying information of the victim or missing person, description of personal items, physical description of the person, description of particular signs, papillary impressions, a list of medical information, which may contribute in identification.[43]

The post-mortem information is completed on a pink INTERPOL form and was created to list the information obtained from the post-mortem on a body and is then compared with information on the yellow AM form. The PM form is divided into sections similar to the AM form but the records are obtained when the body is examined.[44]

Management of Disaster Victim Identification

i.12 The Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has increasingly improved its capability to deal with major crises over recent years from the aftermaths of succeeding emergences such as “9/11” and the Bali bombings. However, the best possible service cannot be received unless the response internationally, is well coordinated between government departments and agencies, the police and health authorities and volunteers. [45]

To ensure success is delivered, it is important that the correct and experienced people with the right skills, who are equipped with the right systems and support, are put into place. The government found that not all the components were always achieved within the case of the tsunami and occasionally mistakes were made. The important point made is to learn the lessons and improve.[46]

Since the Bali bombing in October 2002 the FCO has improved its crisis management capability. It has created a crisis a response centre as a first point of contact and introduced Rapid Deployment Teams (RDTs), which are groups of trained officers with relevant skills, who are on standby by and available to travel anywhere in the world with short notice.[47]

As soon as the FCO heard the news about the Tsunami, the staff responded immediately. The FCO staff in the region and in London coped very well under severe pressure.[48] They made personal sacrifices which, included working extremely long hours, to provide a response that British nationals expected. However, the need to make immediate vital decisions, proved very testing and was often base on little or confused information. Mistakes were also made. Officials could have benefited from more training to deal with this type of emergency. It is now recommended that staff should carry out regular training in crisis responses and taking place in annual exercises.[49]

Bangok and Colombo had recently introduced new emergency plans. The plans were put in place for the first time during the Tsunami.  However, it was found that the staff did not make great use of them, finding them to have limited relevance to the emergency. There is more of a need for a brief plan, giving individual’s vital points to follow and who to contact.[50]

The FCO has developed an action plan since the tsunami that brings together a range of procedures in the UK. This includes:

  1. Improved training and guidance
  2. Improvements to the arrangements and equipment of Rapid Deployment Teams
  3. Guidelines that are clearer for FCO and Police co-operation
  4. Improvements in casualty reporting
  5. Permanent arrangements with key non-governmental organisations such as the British Red cross
  6. From this, the action plan calls for:
  7. Improvements to emergency plans to ensure better co-operation with Rapid Deployment Teas, EU partners and local volunteers
  8. Mobile communications and emergency funds having clearer arrangements[51]

i.13 The Best Practice Response Structure

When a disaster occurs which results in mass fatalities, the best practice response is that all bodies should be recovered and contained in the same mortuary until the identification process is complete and the body is released to the next of kin.[52] Temporary mortuary’s can be established if no permanent facilities available. Some hospitals may be able to deal with mass fatalities but there is a possibility that the victims may become confused with the day-to-day bodies that are stored. If survivors of the disaster die in hospital then the body should be moved to a facility where other victims of disaster are being processed.[53]

Experience that has gained in the UK over many years has proved that guidance and advice on how to deal with disasters is not enough and legislation is the best way forward. However, this works in the UK but may not work in other countries.[54]

It has been shown that the best practice says that an Incident Commander, Senior Identification Officer and a Body Recovery Team is necessary to maximize the chances that the victims bodies in a disaster are identified and their bodies are returned to their loved ones.[55]

i.14 DVI Response to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami

The international DVI response to the Boxing Day tsunami was of the largest and most complex in DVI history. It is referred to as the TTVI operation, the group created a multi-national, multi-disciplinary, multi-agency team.[56] According to Thai Law, the Royal Thai Police Force is in charge of victim identification. However, as there was only a few forensic pathologists and only one forensic dentist who were identifying thousands of victims, it was considered beyond the capability of the Royal Thai Police Force alone.[57] Therefore, approximately 30 countries organised DVI teams to assist the Thai government with victim identification. The international DVI response, led by the Royal Thai Police, was one of the most complex and biggest in DVI history. (Amy Z. Mundorff) It serves as an example for the importance of standards in the DVI process as forensic scientists and police organisations developed these standards for the identification process. (Wright et al., 2015).

In the beginning the traditional DVI approach proved successful in identifying a large number of victims quickly. However, they struggled to identify certain victims due to poor quality post-mortem and ante-mortem data. Therefore, a new DVI management strategy was put in place by the DNA team and was applied to target presumptive identifications and improve the efficiency of operations. (Ravlo, 2016)

The Thai identification teams were joined by international experts from over 30 different countries working as part of the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification (TTVI) operation. The TTVI followed the strategy and guidelines outlined by INTERPOL but using this standard DVI approach; investigators struggled to increase identifications of victims beyond a certain point. Data that was incomplete or data that was compromised by errors is what prevented matches.  Separating the identification teams also led to more errors between staff rotations. Furthermore, the DVI strategy was based on finding AM and PM matches. Given the large number of AM cases with incomplete records was a critical void in the identification process.

A more efficient system was important to be put into place to target information from cases. In June 2005, a new method was tested with results that seemed promising. Five cases resulted in new identifications through additional data from fingerprints. A month later, a new, targeted identification strategy which focused on all of the “near-threshold” DNA matches was applied into the TTVI. This new approached focused on “near-threshold” DNA matches but could be adapted so other identification methods could also be used. (Chaseling)

The traditional five phases that structure a DVI incident were put into place including, scene assessment, post-mortem examination, antemortem record collection, reconciliation to identify victims and debriefing. (Australasian Disaster Victim Identification Standards Manual. Australasian DVI Committee 2004. )

Literature Review

i.15 Introduction

This literature review looks at the issues within the management of DVI. It will focus on the legislations that are in place that police authorities and forensic experts follow to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of DVI.  It also looks at new areas of research and how it is important to find the best techniques and procedures in order to be able to achieve more identification. New areas of research include new applications of Commute Tomography (CT) and the advantages and limitations. (Martin Sidler a, 2006)

INTERPOL is the only international legislation in place that addresses the issue of DVI and which police authorities and forensic experts follow to improve effectiveness and efficiency. (Martin Sidler a, 2006)The most recent DVI principles, which are followed (INTERPOL, 2008) is more detailed than the previous (INTERPOL, 1997). It has produced guidelines to help with the planning of the identification process and to help coordinate the international response within a mass fatality incident and are widely used help with the identification process internationally (Sweet O.C., 2010). However, the INTERPOL guide does not address the limitations and problems with identification techniques and existing guidelines. (Martin Sidler a, 2006)

Tun et al (2005) reviews the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in an article by saying that the mass fatality plan at the start of the disaster was a problem and slowed down the identification process. They suggest that a national mass fatality response plan, which is going to be effective, needs to be put into place for future incidents. If an effective plan is put into place with international assistances, a lot more victims would be identified faster and it would be less expensive.

i.16 Clandestine Multiple Graves

In May 2015, human trafficking camps were discovered in Wang Kelian, North area of Peninsular Malaysia. The remains of 165 bodies were found. The police uncovered 28 human trafficking camps consisting of 139 graves about 100 meters above sea level. A DVI response was instantly made where experts including, pathologists, anthropologists, odontologists, radiologists and experts in DNA came together at the DVI center located in the Department of Forensic Medicine, Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah Alor Star, Kedah. The INTERPOL DVI process was followed and an X-ray procedure of all remains before the PM stage was made. There was no AM data retrieved from the human trafficking victims which meant no identification could be made. The operations within the mortuary were successful until the final phase of temporary controlled burial for all victims.

This case expresses the importance of the DVI process for future identification, data recording and archiving of information. (Winskog) Winskog stated “no antemortem data means no identification”, meaning that antemortem data is important as a foundation for successful identification. There was no adequate data to proceed with the last phase of reconcilliation in order to achieve positive identification. However, the DVI effort that occurred was important and was proven by including temporary controlled burial as a measure to treat the victims with respect and dignity. (Winskog)

i.17 New Areas of Research in DVI

i.17.1 Commuted Tomography and DVI

Anthropological research, which is specific to DVI, is important when trying to find out which are the best techniques to use to able to identify more victims. (C. O’Donnell a, 2010)Radiography has been used for identification since 1927 and since then the role in human identification and mass fatality has developed hugely. New research, in the development of CT scans has more recently been used for DVI (Morgan et al., 2014).

The advantages and limitations for application of CT scans in DVI are discussed in the article (Sidler, et al. 2007) and how CT scans can improve the DVI process. (Rutty, 2015)In the article, Sidler concludes that multislice CT can be a valuable screening tool into the DVI process proposed by INTERPOL. (C. O’Donnell a, 2010) The physical descriptions include nearly 60% of the information for the physical description in section D of the INTERPOL form, which is the most frequently used ante mortem and post-mortem collection forms for DVI in INTERPOL member countries. (INTERPOL, 2008) By securing the information on CT scan digitally stores the visual information permanently and then other scientists can review it without having to examine the actual remains again. (Rutty, 2015)This means time needed actually inspecting the corpse is drastically reduced as the scanner is able to interpret one victims CT data whilst other bodies are continued to be scanned (Sidler, et al. 2007).

i.18 Temporary Controlled Burial (TCB)

TCB is a method that is for storage of unidentified bodies long term. The temperature underground is much lower than above the surface, providing natural refrigeration. (Khoo Lay See, 2016)It is done by carrying out a burial procedure for the human remains where each body will be marked with GPS, to enable future exposure in the event of the attendance of next of kin. Each of the graves should be 6 feet in depth and each individual should be placed side-by-side 2 feet apart. Three pieces of stainless steel tags are then fixed to the body shroud, the coffin and the GPS coordinate plate in front of the grave. The International Committee of the Red Cross’s contribution to the 2004 16th meeting of INTERPOL’s Standing Committee on DVI says that “identification represents the fulfillment of the right of human beings not to lose their identities after death and, overall, the right of families to know what has happened to their relatives in all circumstances” There is no missing person data collected to be compared with PM data as to date but there may be family members who might come forward for identification in the near future. TCB provides a important solution for unidentified victims to be treated with dignity and respect. It is also crucial to react to relatives’ needs with respect and honest and to try to give them answers and certainty as quickly as possible. (Khoo Lay See, 2016)

i.19 Cataloguing and Archiving of Information

DVI is not a new discovery where identification procedures have been developed. Radiology is used for a number of purposes in a MFI due to being able to provide information to help finding foreign bodies that may show up hazards to investigators working onsite, can be used to cover and pinpoint the exact location of evidence and to help with victim identification. Radiology has not been officially accepted to be included in the INTERPOL guide but post-mortem computed tomography (PMCT) scans and X-ray have been introduced into DVI within the last 10 years. Images, which are from the PMCT or X-ray, are kept in a file for long term. Apart from this, odontology examinations have dental imaging technology, which stores dental records of human remains that are available in softcopy. (Khoo Lay See, 2016)

i.20 Research

With proper data recording, data cataloguing and record that can be kept for long term, it can be used for keeping good research. This research can then be used for education purposes and training involved in DVI operations. This means that advances of new techniques during PM examinations as well more sampling techniques that are more effective can be developed from the research. (Khoo Lay See, 2016) Future development in research could mean that a formula could be created to estimate time science death precisely. The two cases of MFI’s have showed the continuous evolution of the DVI process exceptionally in its application going beyond merely identification, to recording and documenting future references by the victim’s family for the researchers. (Khoo Lay See, 2016)


Disasters and serious incidents, whether or not caused by human intervention, often lead to large numbers of casualties and fatalities. Mass disasters with a large number of unknown victims are among the biggest challenges for the police and forensic disciplines. The fundamental protocols formulated by the INTERPOL for the DVI operations should not change, instead be intensified and institutionalized. The extended version of the DVI protocol to include temporary controlled burial for all the unidentified remains is proven to be a measure to treat victims with respect and dignity.

Identifying human remains of victims from MFI’s is crucial to provide justice to the victim’s family.  The research included in this dissertation is supposed to assist future DVI managers in future projects and as new DVI strategies are developed.

The intention of this dissertation was to consider the management decisions that were made during the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. This was completed by trying to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the most effective and efficient response structure for DVI?
  1. Have there been any improvements made within future DVI incidents since the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami?
  2. What were the management decisions made in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami?
  3. What are the guidelines used and how are they effective?
  4. Have there been any improvements made within future DVI incidents?
  5. What were the lessons learnt from the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami that can be applied to future DVI projects?

It recognises the most effective strategies that are in place and are used to identify disaster victims effectively and efficiently, so that in future incidents the number of victims identified will be increased. This study can be helpful to future MFI’s by assisting managers of new DVI strategies. By examining the management decisions that were made in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami will show how the decisions made and the techniques used which helped the identification process but also improved the strategies for other incidents.

The UK has a very limited budget for any DVI project. If an event did occur, a DVI team would have to go to authority to use materials that have been funded under counter terrorism budgets and management. DVI would be better managed if equipment was deigned for the needs.

The response of the United Kingdom (U.K) to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami was unparalleled. The impact huge and many lessons were learnt from this and therefore were use in other incidents. Whether these incidents are criminal, natural disasters or accidental it is irrelevant to families that have lost members. The U.K. could not continue with the work without the dedication from the Home Office and the FCO.

The response to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami was a first for international DVI mission to which something like this may never be repeated to an extent in the future. However, if anything like this was to happen again, they must be prepared much better to identify the human remains and return them to their families. International policies and procedures should be improved and disperse with INTERPOL member countries and ensure that improvements happen.


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[1] The DVI Response To The South East Asian Tsunami Between December 2004 And February 2006(2017) accessed 15 August 2017.

[2] Khoo Lay See, Sarah Aziz and Mohd Shah Mahmood, ‘Beyond DVI: Future Identification, Research And Archiving’ (2016) 07 Journal of Forensic Research.

[3] Eddy De Valck, ‘Major Incident Response: Collecting Ante-Mortem Data’ (2006) 159 Forensic Science International.

[4] A.L. Brough, B. Morgan and G.N. Rutty, ‘The Basics Of Disaster Victim Identification’ (2015) 3 Journal of Forensic Radiology and Imaging.


[6] ‘UK National Disaster Victim Identification Unit (UK DVI)’ (Npcc.police.uk, 2017) accessed 3 August 2017.

[7] A.L. Brough, B. Morgan and G.N. Rutty, ‘The Basics Of Disaster Victim Identification’ (2015) 3 Journal of Forensic Radiology and Imaging.


[9] ‘DVI / Forensics / INTERPOL Expertise / Internet / Home – INTERPOL’ (Interpol.int, 2017) accessed 3 August 2017.

[10] Ibid.

[11] ‘Tsunami 2004: Asian Tsunami, Indian Ocean Tsunami, Boxing Day Tsunami’ (Tsunami 2004, 2017) accessed 3 August 2017.

[12] Ibid.

[13] ‘Background To The Tsunami’ (Tsuk.org.uk, 2017) accessed 3 August 2017.

[14]  ‘Tsunami | Shoaling Process, Shallow Waters And Energy Releasewaters And Energy Release’ (Sms-tsunami-warning.com, 2017) accessed 3 August 2017.

[15] (n 13)

[16] Ibid.

[17] ABC News, ‘Boxing Day Tsunami: How The Disaster Unfolded 10 Years Ago’ (2017) accessed 3 August 2017.


[19] Ibid.

[20] John Pickrell, ‘Facts And Figures: Asian Tsunami Disaster’ [2005] New Scientist accessed 3 August 2017.

[21] ‘Boxing Day Tsunami: The Facts About The 2004 Indian Ocean Disaster’ (International Business Times UK, 2017) accessed 4 August 2017.

[22] Raziye Akkoc, ‘2004 Boxing Day Tsunami Facts’ The Telegraph (2014).

[23] John Aglionby, ‘Four Times As Many Women Died In Tsunami’ The Guardian (2005).

[24] ibd

[25] ‘Response To The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake | GEOG 588: Planning GIS For Emergency Management D7 Upgrade’ (E-education.psu.edu, 2017) accessed 3 August 2017.

[26] ‘Boxing Day Tsunami: The Facts About The 2004 Indian Ocean Disaster’ (International Business Times UK, 2017) accessed 4 August 2017.

[27] (n 25)

[28] “GIS and Emergency Management in Indian Ocean Earthquake/Tsunami Disaster” [2006] ESRI

[29] (n 25)

[30] Rüdiger Lessig and Markus Rothschild, “International standards in cases of mass disaster victim identification (DVI)” (2011) 8 Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology 197-199

[31] (n 4)

[32]  ‘Disaster Victim Identification’ (App.college.police.uk, 2017) accessed 4 August 2017.

[33] (n 2)

[34] David Sweet O.C., ‘INTERPOL DVI Best-Practice Standards—An Overview’ (2010) 201 Forensic Science International.

[35] Ibid.

[36] ‘DVI / Forensics / INTERPOL Expertise / Internet / Home – INTERPOL’ (Interpol.int, 2017) accessed 17 August 2017.

[37] (n 34)

[38] Ibid.

[39] (n 36)

[40] (n 32)

[41] (n 34)

[42] S. Kirchhoff and others, ‘Is Post-Mortem CT Of The Dentition Adequate For Correct Forensic Identification?: Comparison Of Dental Computed Tomograpy And Visual Dental Record’ (2008) 122 International Journal of Legal Medicine.

[43] (n 3)

[44] Ibid.

[45]  A Short Guide To The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (NAO 2015) accessed 4 August 2017.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Bradley J. Adams, ‘Review Of: Disaster Victim Identification: Experience And Practice’ (2012) 57 Journal of Forensic Sciences.

[53] Rüdiger Lessig and Markus Rothschild, ‘International Standards In Cases Of Mass Disaster Victim Identification (DVI)’ (2011) 8 Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology.

[54] Ibid.

[55] E Dykes and KE Ravlo, ‘Disaster Victim Management: Internationally Agreed Best Practices For Disaster Victim Identification’ [2015] Encyclopedia of Forensic and Legal Medicine (Second Edition) accessed 3 August 2017.

[56]  Kirsty Wright and others, ‘A New Disaster Victim Identification Management Strategy Targeting “Near Identification-Threshold” Cases: Experiences From The Boxing Day Tsunami’ (2015) 250 Forensic Science International.


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