Enhancing Scene Processing ProtocolsJun 20, 2012
NIJ has published:
Enhancing Scene Processing Protocols to Improve Victim Identification and Field Detection of Human Remains in Mass Fatality Scenes (pdf, 156 pages)
By Dennis Dirkmaat, Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute; Erin Chapman, Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute; Michael Kenyhercz, Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute; Luis Cabo, Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute
Considerable lessons have been learned in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Disaster management plans have been created addressing diverse issues such as pre-incident planning for first responders, forensic identification of the victims, or the need to keep victim’s families informed. However, the field processing of the mass fatality scene has received less attention. A position paper by Homeland Security (National Preparedness Guidelines, September 2007) provides two important directives for this task: 1) all of the human remains must be recovered from the scene, and 2) this must be accompanied of the complete documentation of the human remains and all other evidentiary items.
The sheer volume of material present at the mass fatality scene often overwhelms investigators, who then tend to minimize the importance of proper and detailed documentation of the spatial distribution of the remains. It is assumed that the information to be gleaned by expending time and effort in the precise documentation of the location of items at the scene is negligible, and time costs for such effort are appreciable. The emphasis is instead placed on removing the evidence as quickly as possible, with little or no provenience (precise spatial location) documentation, in order to begin the process of identifying the victims, determining the cause of the crash and clearing the scene of all crash debris as soon as possible.
The field documentation and recovery of physical evidence associated with mass fatality scenes is indeed a tremendously complicated task. This is due to three interrelated factors: 1) the sheer volume of fragmented, and often comingled, human remains and other physical evidence, densely concentrated and anisotropically distributed at the scene, 2) the large size of the debris field created, and 3) the accordingly large number of personnel, equipment and other resources required to process the scene.
The current study addresses these problems by building on previous research and experience by the principal investigator. The primary purpose of the project was to significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of forensic “processing” (location, documentation, and recovery) of large-scale crime scenes, and specifically those resulting from mass fatality incidents. This was accomplished through testing, refinement, and validation of three research components: 1) technological protocol configuration, validation and budgetary cost assessment, 2) testing the efficiency of the new technological configurations of the Weldon Spring Protocols in terms of time and personnel costs, and 3) their efficacy in terms of recovery rates.
The improvements in scene processing were accomplished through the development and dissemination of enhanced, realistic, effective and affordable search and recovery protocols that maximize the detection, recovery, documentation and identification of human remains in mass fatality events. Important provenience data were acquired in a standardized manner that has benefits to real time recovery efforts, as well as to reconstructing past events related to manner of crash or bomb incident. The applicability of these enhanced protocols to a variety of other outdoor crime scenes was also addressed.
Comprehensive user-friendly protocols were developed based on mock bomb scenes and a real confined crash scene in Clarence Center, NY. The protocols include a description and explanation of pre-planning and procedures following the incident, including meetings for planning the response and recovery, and a description of the responsibilities of personnel involved. Following this description, two sets of protocols detail the preparation and considerations for establishing a recovery plan for scene documentation and victim recovery for a dispersed crash site and a condensed crash site. Organized by teams (photography, excavation, written documentation, etc.), the protocols go through the process, step by step, of how to carry out the search for, recovery, and documentation of victims of mass disaster scenes.
The results of extensive field testing indicated that comprehensive documentation of the spatial location of evidence and human remains can be accomplished in a time efficient manner with an increase in the recognition and location of evidence and human remains at a scene and therefore potential victim identification, while maintaining reasonable cost and working times.
Results also showed that accurate estimates of the volume of evidence could be made using plot and plotless search methods. These methods can be used to estimate the amount of evidence in unsearched areas as well as estimating the amount of evidence in the overall scene, thereby helping to predict needs assessments for personnel and the amount of time it will take to process and release specific portions of a scene.
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