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Management of Dead Bodies After Disasters:
A Field Manual for First Responders

Book of Stress Management In DisastersManagement of the dead is one of the most difficult aspects of disaster response. It has profound and long-lasting consequences for survivors and communities. Globally, disasters claim thousands of lives each year. However, care of the deceased is often overlooked in disaster planning and the absence of guidance for first responders has recently been highlighted following several large disasters. This Field Manual for First Responders presents simple recommendations for non-specialists to manage the recovery, basic identification, storage and disposal of dead bodies following disasters. It also makes suggestions about providing support to family members and communicating with the public and the media.

This manual will be useful during the immediate response to a disaster and where forensic response is unavailable. Furthermore, it will be useful for those preparing mass fatality disaster plans. The recommendations are relevant for local, regional and national authorities as well as for non-governmental organizations. The principles outlined in this document are being implemented and promoted by a variety of organizations, including the Pan American Health Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The Manual has undergone an extensive peer review process. We have received comments from 8 technical reviewers: the chair of INTERPOL’s DVI committee, the Head Forensic Pathologist at the Home Office in the UK, a forensic specialist in Sri Lanka, two disaster managers in the Caribbean, an academic disaster expert in the UK, a human rights specialist from ICRC and an international disaster professional. In addition, the manual has also been reviewed by attendees of a meeting of forensic specialists in Colombia, 15 Public Health leaders from 9 Asian countries at a regional meeting about mass fatality management, and forensic experts from Jordan who participated in an ICRC workshop. In addition, the draft manual and forms were used in the field following the earthquake in Pakistan and mud-slide in the Philippines.

This book can be ordered from PAHO's Emergency Preparedness Program (disaster-publications@paho.org), or can be downloaded, by chapters, as PDF files. You need to have installed Adobe Acrobat Reader to read these files. It can be obtained free of charge from the Adobe Website. In addition, we have included in MS Word Format the annexes of the publication, so that they can be adapted to any particular situation.

PDF Files

Complete book (1Mb)
Cover (420 Kb)
First part (chapters) (530Kb)
Annexes (320 Kb)

Word Files

Dead bodies identification form
Missing persons form
Sequential Numbers for Unique Referencing
Body Inventory Sheet

Also available:

Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization
525 Twenty-third Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, United States of America
Tel.: +1 (202) 974-3000 Fax: +1 (202) 974-3663

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