Finding and identifying victims after a natural disaster is not just a matter of deploying sophisticated technology such as detection devices. It also depends on quickly matching up circumstantial information with the victim to confirm the latter’s identity. Yet post-disaster investigative techniques and approaches across the globe are far from standardised.
Any delays in this regard mean agony for the families of missing persons or victims as witnessed after the December 2004 tsunami that struck southeast Asia. It left humanitarian and law enforcement authorities overwhelmed by the scale of the victim identification required. As a result, on-site cooperation was ad-hoc and hugely challenged by all the different operational methodologies, training and instances of duplication, with national disaster victim identification teams focused on identifying their own nationals.
One EU-funded Security Research project known as FASTID (“FAST and efficient international disaster victim Identification”) aims to change that.
Currently, international police cooperation to identify disaster victims is supported by Interpol’s “Disaster Victim Identification” (DVI) forms. Running 17 pages or more in length, the forms contain a massive amount of paperwork that is hard navigate quickly for research and investigative purposes.
To improve the ability of international police cooperation to better identify unclaimed bodies FASTID has developed a prototype database system to simplify and accelerate the cross-matching ability of DVI information. The new prototype system was implemented on Interpol’s hosted platform at its headquarters in Lyon, France.
The prototype’s database offers decentralised access for use in conjunction with mass fatality events. However, according to FASTID’s research team, their protoype’s conversion into operational use would aid not only international police cooperation for disaster victim identification but also support the daily requirements of policy forces as they carry out domestic investigative work on missing persons or unidentified bodies. The team also developed training material to support and encourage global common operational methodologies for identification tasks and similar approaches to data recording across Interpol’s 190 member countries.
A 36-month project coordinated by Interpol, FASTID was launched in April 2010 and concluded its work in March 2013. It had a total research budget of nearly EUR 3 million of which the EU provided 75 percent. For more information, see FASTID’s website at: http://www.interpol.int/Projects/FASTID