In contrast with emergencies such as a pandemic, where the cause of death would in most cases be known, some emergencies resulting in mass fatalities require careful investigation to establish the circumstances of the deaths. In emergencies where criminality, hostility or negligence is suspected, legal requirements will greatly affect the way in which fatalities are managed. This section of the guidance sets out the response to mass fatalities emergencies of this sort, from the time when bodies are removed from the incident scene to when they are cremated or buried. It does not consider generic responses such as the management of an incident / crime scene, Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) procedures or the details of the work of pathologist or other specialist staff investigating the cause of death. Guidance on these issues is available elsewhere.
Counter Terrorism & Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosive (CT & CBRNE) Emergencies
The response to emergencies involving hazardous substances, such as chemical and biological agents, requires special management procedures due to the need to decontaminate survivors and the deceased, and to protect responders and the wider public from transmission of the hazard. The investigations needed to identify the cause and, where relevant, the perpetrators of the incident are similarly specialised. While much of the guidance in this document could be applied to deaths from explosions, guidance on mass fatality aspects of other CBRNE emergencies is not included.
Implications for Planners of Criminal Investigations of Mass Fatality Emergencies
Criminal investigations create additional requirements for those responding to emergencies, including those not directly involved in policing. Local planners should ensure that the arrangements take account of the issues listed below and should consult with partner agencies to ensure detailed arrangements are satisfactory and robust.
1. Procurator Fiscal
The Procurator Fiscal has a duty to investigate all sudden and unexplained deaths, as well as deaths in suspicious circumstances. A central part of this will be the timely recovery of evidence and its preservation. Where there are large numbers of fatalities the Procurator Fiscal will consult with specialist colleagues and direct the Police and other responders on aspects of the investigation. This will include the Procurator Fiscal determining whether local capacity is sufficient to manage the emergency or whether central assistance is required, including additional body storage or the NEMA.
2. Disaster Victim Identification and Fragmentation of Bodies
Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) procedures are implemented by specialist staff from Police Scotland, other UK Police Forces and partner agencies to identify disaster victims and to collect evidence when normal arrangements are unsuitable. This may be because bodies have been severely disrupted or fragmented or because large numbers of deaths have occurred and victims cannot easily be distinguished. DVI is principally concerned with the recovery, identification, reconciliation and repatriation of the dead. However, the DVI process is usually one part of the overall investigation into a mass fatality incident and will take place concurrently with an investigation into the cause of the incident and any criminal culpability arising from it. Its requirements may mean that the amount of mortuary and forensic work generated depends more on the degree of disruption to bodies rather than simply the number of people who have died. Information about DVI procedures is held by Police Scotland who have a responsibility for planning, training and responding in such circumstances.
3. The Choice of Mortuary and its Implications
The choice of mortuary will depend on the circumstances of the particular emergency and will be made jointly between the Procurator Fiscal, Police Senior Identification Manager (SIM) and Forensic Pathologists. The Procurator Fiscal will usually require all bodies from an incident to be examined at a single mortuary. Planners should ensure that an appropriate level of mortuary capacity is in place for reasonably foreseeable emergencies and that the consequences of assigning a significant proportion of this to a single emergency have been considered.
Planners and responders should also confirm that business continuity plans or other arrangements are in place to ensure that the most important services can be maintained if staff and physical resources are assigned to a lengthy incident.
4. Transport of Bodies
Bodies or body parts will be transported from the body holding area at the incident scene to an appropriate mortuary for post mortem investigation by forensic pathologists and other specialists. Evidential requirements or available capacity may mean that the nearest mortuary is not suitable for some emergencies. The requirements of the Procurator Fiscal will determine which facility bodies are taken to and this could include a mortuary in a different area; a temporary mortuary or a body holding facility. Police Scotland will make appropriate arrangements for their transport.
National Emergency Mortuary Arrangements (NEMA)
It is recognised that despite thorough planning and preparation for reasonably foreseeable emergencies, the appropriate use of mutual aid from other regions and the implementation of business continuity arrangements, local capacity may sometimes be exceeded. Under these circumstances NEMA may be deployed to provide sufficient mortuary capacity for an incident.
These arrangements are provided under a set of contracts between the Home Office and other agencies and include the main NEMA facility and arrangements to access and deploy specialist and forensic equipment. These facilities are available in several configuration options, which are set out in the NEMA local deployment documentation along with the various local deployment and call-out requirements.
There is no numerical threshold for the deployment of NEMA as the circumstances of the incident, availability of local capacity, the degree of fragmentation of bodies and the Procurator Fiscal’s instructions will be factors in determining deployment. Planning for tactical and operational aspects of the deployment of NEMA will require the participation of all agencies involved in the mass fatalities response. The full deployment includes:
- Receiving areas
- Storage areas
- Autopsy areas
- Anti-Terror office
- Operational office
- Embalming area
- Equipment store
- Catering & staff changing tents
- Family viewing area
Scottish / UK National Disaster Victim Identification (DVI)
UK-DVI is a UK-wide team of police and civilian forensic experts who are tasked with the recovery, identification, reconciliation and repatriation of the dead in disastrous events. It has two parts:
- A full-time central management and coordination team based in the National Police Coordination Centre (NPoCC) consisting of one UK-DVI Advisor and a UK-DVI Coordinator and
- A “virtual” team of appropriately qualified and trained (i.e. accredited) police and civilian forensic experts who can be called upon to do this work in an emergency.
The UK DVI Development Officer determines membership and training requirements in England and Wales while the coordinator is responsible for maintaining a database of police personnel. Scottish coordination and training is managed by the Police Scotland National DVI Lead and a National DVI Co-ordinator. A similar database is held for Scottish Police officers and some Scottish Police officers are also members of UK DVI and suitable for deployment abroad if required. There is also a stockpile of mortuary equipment managed by Police Scotland to supplement normally available supplies or for use in a temporary mortuary during a Scottish incident. This stock would be replenished by the Local Authority which required its deployment.
Coordination of Response
The coordination of the multiagency response to a mass fatalities emergency should follow the established principles of integrated emergency management, employing the structures set out in Preparing Scotland. Particular consideration should be given to the following:
- care for those who have been bereaved;
- communication of information about fatalities to those who have been bereaved and to the wider public
- ensuring that information about current local mortuary capacity and other resources is easily available to those responding
- assessment of the availability of sufficient specialist staff locally or regionally, including DVI, forensic pathologists and APTs
- operation across multiple sites (e.g. if an incident scene is remote from a suitable mortuary) particularly appropriate arrangements for the transfer of bodies
- planning for estates and technical aspects of any NEMA deployment (connection of utilities, ground quality, disposal of waste, transport etc)
- planning for hospitality aspects of any NEMA deployment, both staff, family and visitors (accommodation, catering, privacy of off duty staff, etc)
- planning for the long term impact on the locality of the establishment of a mortuary and the associated media attention
- planning for the restoration of normality, particularly the incident and mortuary sites
- the impact on service continuity for agencies supporting the response
- care and support of employed and contracted staff
- ensuring readiness to respond to other mass fatality emergencies during or soon after the initial emergency.