Disaster victim identification exercise

18 June 2012
Earthquake, tsunami, crash, fire and flood are just a few scenarios that require the presence of Disaster Victim Identification Officers from the Northern Territory Police.
1	Fire rips towards the unaware campers
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It is not a job that anyone can do and yet it is a vital service both for identifying the victims of a disaster and bringing closure to the relatives of the deceased.

In cases where a body has suffered extreme trauma the Officers must gather whatever they can to identify the unfortunate victims. NT DVI Officers have been called on to assist in recent disasters including the Victorian bushfires and the Christchurch earthquake.

NT Police conduct workshops regularly, both to maintain the skills of current DVI Officers and to introduce people who may be called on to assist in the Interpol standard process of Disaster Victim Identification.

On the 6th and 7th of June a DVI workshop was held with the purpose of exposing dentists to the important role their profession plays in victim identification.

Superintendent Tony Fuller, NTDVI Commander, said there was currently only one regular forensic odontologist assisting Police in victim identification.

“Dr Mark Leedham helped us in this exercise in the hope of training other dentists into the field of forensic odontology.

“In cases where we are left with only dental records as a way of formally identifying a victim Dr Leedham has been our only option.”

Detective Sergeant Steven Pfitsner, Senior Constable Ian Spilsbury and Senior Constable Craig Boles were tasked with setting up the training exercise to introduce potential forensic dentists to the aftermath of a disaster and a fully operational crime scene.

Assisted by members of the NT Fire and Rescue Service a campground was established, complete with the bodies of four pigs, before it was fully engulfed in fire and the remains burnt to a cinder.

Eleven Territory dentists joined Police members wishing to qualify as DVI officers in the protocols and safety issues surrounding gathering evidence from a disaster zone.

“The Officers had set up a very realistic disaster and the visitors were treated to all the sights, smells and horrors of the step by step process.

“In this scenario the four victims had been overcome by a large wildfire and had perished where they had camped. Identification was an obvious issue and as a result the dentists had the opportunity to utilise their skills.” Superintendent Fuller said.

In full personal protection gear and sticking to the rigidly set times Officers can be exposed to the disaster zone the DVI students received first class advice in locating, recording and removing the remains for detailed study back in the mortuary.

The workshop was greatly supported by Dr Tony Hill, a consultant to the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and a very experienced Forensic Odontologist and Dr John Plummer, (Retired) who maintains an interest in DVI and who over the years was involved in a number of DVI and Criminal Investigations. Both assisted with the mentoring of the dentists.

Current DVI Officers and Senior Constable Kellie Loughman from the Forensic branch of the Crime Scene Investigation Unit were also on hand to answer questions and offer advice to the participants as they discussed best practice when gathering evidence.

“All participants gained a valuable insight into the DVI process and expressed an interest in assisting Police in this field should the need arise.” Superintendent Fuller said.

“In that regard the exercise was a success and provided an excellent opportunity for our Officers to meet the people they will hopefully be working with in the future.”