DS Heather Scott and DC Gill Piloni of the Disaster Management Team at the Metropolitan Police briefed consular assistants about the emergency response timeline in a mass casualty event and Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) procedures.
In an emergency, Police Liaison Officers from the Diplomatic Protection Group will notify the Single Point of Contact (SPOC) at every diplomatic mission about the incident. DS Heather Scott urged consuls to check that the contact details for their mission are up to date.
Further information relating to the incident (such as the Casualty Bureau number, see below) will then be posted on the DPG secure bulletin board.
If there are any victims from a specific country involved, the DPG will notify the SPOC by text.
To submit up-to-date contacts, email Katie MacGill on: Katie.McGill@met.police.uk
Within four hours of a disaster occurring a Casualty Bureau will be set up which will include a call centre.
The Casualty Bureau Number will be published on all media networks and interpreters are available to speak to relatives who do not speak English.
When family members call Casualty Bureau, they will be asked to give their contact details and will be asked a series of questions in order to grade the likelihood of their relative being involved in the incident, as well as any identifying features of their missing relative.
This information is then passed on to the incident room, where information from friends and relatives is matched with information obtained from police investigators at the scene and at the survivor reception centre at the hospitals – this could include property on the victim as well as visual identification markers (gender, age, distinctive marks, distinctive clothing, build, skin colour etc).
If there are many victims from a particular country, the consul may be invited to attend and assist at the Casualty Bureau.
At hospitals there is a Friends & Family Centre and police may interview relatives there.
Disaster Victim Identification
In the UK, ante-mortem and post-mortem data is brought together to make a positive identification by scientific means.
In mass casualty events, visual identification is not used.
Family Liaison Officers
If information from police and relatives matches, a Family Liaison Officer will be deployed to interview the victim’s relatives. A standardised Interpol AM (ante-mortem) form will be filled in. Relatives may be asked to supply recent dental records or hair brushes for formal identification. Consuls may be asked to assist in obtaining evidence from the home country as quickly as possible.
FLOs are the main liaison between the family, the investigating officers and the coroner. They will also direct families to organisations such as Victim Support (www.victimsupport.org.uk ) to help with bereavement and funeral directors to assist with repatriation (see Consular Contact List).
Victims’ bodies are removed and taken to the mortuary where HM Coroner will perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death and to provide post-mortem information for the purposes of formal identification.
Once a scientific match is made, a reconciliation file is prepared for the Identification Commission, which comprises the reconciliation commissioner (a police officer) the coroner and forensic experts.
If the coroner is satisfied that a positive match has been found, the body will be formally identified.
Only once the Coroner’s investigation is complete can the body be released and a registration of death can be issued. If the investigation is a lengthy one, an interim certificate can be obtained. Relatives wanting to repatriate the body will need an Out of England Order, issued by the coroner.
Do’s and Don’ts for consular crises
BEFORE AN INCIDENT DO…
- Familiarise yourself with the process
- Get to know your DPG police liaison officer
- Make sure your SPOC details are up to date
- Establish an emergency response plan, which includes handling calls and questionnaires for relatives
- Exercise emergency plans
DURING AN INCIDENT DO
- Check the DPG Secure Bulletin Board for regular updates
- Establish a call-handling centre for relatives
- Gather basic data (names, contact details, dates of birth)
- Advise relatives to contact Casualty Bureau
- Prepare relatives for the types of questions
- Be on hand to assist at Casualty Bureau
- Assist with obtaining evidence from abroad
DURING AN INCIDENT DON’T
- Give out exact numbers
- Raise false hopes
- Go to hospitals to investigate deaths of your nationals. This impedes police investigations and hospital workers tending to the injured