Disaster Victim Identification

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Disaster Victim Identification or DVI is the method used to identify victims of mass casualty incidents such as aircraft crashes or the bomb blasts in Bali. The process can be long and involved due the nature of the event and the need to correctly identify the victim.

The risk of mis-identification of an individual can bring into question all identifications and heighten the trauma of what is an already stressful situation.

The process of DVI involves a range of forensic science techniques used to make a positive identification of the deceased victims. Some of these are:

  • fingerprints - considered highly reliable if available. However as in many cases fingerprints are not available and most individuals do not have fingerprint records, it is of value for only some victims.
  • odontology - mainly dental records - considered the most reliable for identifying victims as teeth and bones are highly durable and most individuals have dental records.
  • DNA profiling - with the advances in technology, DNA has become very reliable. Direct comparisons can be made between the DNA profile of victims and, for example, a DNA profile generated from cells in a hair brush known to belong to a victim of the tragedy. Indirect comparisons can also be made using the parents' DNA. This is basically the process used in paternity testing. Given the nature of DNA testing it is only 100% reliable in making an exclusion i.e. the victim is not a particular missing person.

Perhaps surprisingly visual identification is shown to be the least reliable.

Australia and New Zealand follow the INTERPOL procedures for DVI. While these may seem slow and the forms that individuals are required to complete for missing persons may seem needlessly bureaucratic for relatives, it has been shown through many incidents to be the most reliable in identifying victims.

This resource has been produced and endorsed by the ANZPAA Disaster Victim Identification Committee (ADVIC). It is to serve as a guide to families of victims as to what the process is when identifying victims of disasters and other mass fatality incidents. There may be some minor differences between jurisdictions.

More Information

Interpol Disaster Victim Identification

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