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Disaster Recovery Services – Identifying Victims

Disaster Recovery Services (DRS) is one of the many services that Kenyon offers to our clients. One of the key functions of this service is Disaster Victim Identification or DVI. The article below illustrates how Kenyon is able to help identify victims of mass fatalities.

Data Management

The first step in a mass loss of life is to collect information on those who are missing. Often times the client will provide a passenger manifest. However, in the case of a natural disaster or any other incident where there would not be a specific possible victim list, how do we establish who is missing? How do we communicate with the families looking for their loved one? Within 30 minutes of activation the Kenyon International Call Center can be operational and a toll-free number for families is published. Here in the call center, critical information about the victims and missing persons is being collected and the foundation for identifying the victims begins. Kenyon relies on a proven method of collecting information from the family, the victim and, sadly, the remains. Organizing that mass of information is done in part by using the following system.

Identifying the Family – The Blue Folder

As information begins to flow in, Kenyon Team Members begin building a profile of the victim’s next of kin. This information will become critical for many different things: collecting information about the PDA® (person directly affected) and reference DNA samples from the right family members, identifying who is legally able to make decisions regarding disposition of remains, and in some cases, identifying who is legally eligible for compensation. Without a clear picture of the family, it becomes very difficult to successfully identify the victims. If Kenyon is assisting with the incident, we use specially created blue folders with ready-to-use forms to collect information on the families. Each blue folder will represent one family unit.

Building a Profile of Each Victim – The Yellow Folder

If the loved ones are still missing, the authorities must collect and build a “profile” of that missing person. That profile includes medical and dental records, fingerprint files if available, reference DNA samples and a very detailed questionnaire developed by INTERPOL. This is primarily completed by interviewing family members, asking them to provide DNA examples from things like hairbrushes or toothbrushes or preferably by collecting buccal swabs from blood relatives. This information and sample collection can take weeks. Not all families can or want to provide this information. The result is what Kenyon calls a yellow folder. Those folders, and all the information collected within, represent a missing person.

Identifying the Remains – The Pink Folder

While profiles are built of the victims and their families, Kenyon Team Members, the authorities, and local or international forensic teams, will have started the recovery of bodies from the incident site, as well as those who died while receiving medical treatment. They will complete detailed profiles of the bodies. These profiles will include x-rays, dental charts, DNA profiles, and completion of a detailed examination and report, again developed by INTERPOL. This process should be completed for each of the recovered human remains.

Sadly, and undoubtedly difficult for the families, many of the deceased are likely fragmented. Each fragment should be examined and a profile completed. This takes a lot of time. Each fragment needs to be examined because in some cases a small fragment may be the only human remains identified for a missing person. Following a mass fatality incident, there may be thousands of pink folders.

In the case of a deliberate attack, it may also be necessary to separate the remains of those responsible for the attack from the victims. Often, the families of the perpetrators do not report them missing. In some cases, they may provide a DNA reference or one may be available from other sources.

Putting it all Together

When a missing person’s profile matches that of a dead body, then a positive identification can be made and those remains can be released to the family. This means that a yellow folder (victim profile) have successfully been matched to one or many pink folders (human remain profile). This process can take weeks or months, and in some cases years. The longer times are often a result of the further DNA testing and comparison for the deceased who have few records, or when the bodies are badly damaged from fire or other trauma.

The Impact

This system gives us the best chance of being able to make identification and be able to repatriate a loved one.