Regional Office of the
World Health Organization
of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Management 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.
Immediately after a major disaster, identifying and disposing of human remains are often done by local communities. Forensic specialists may not be available or unable to rapidly access the affected area. There are simple steps that first responders can take to ensure the dead are treated in a dignified way and that can assist in their identification.
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.
This document can be viewed on Internet at:
www.paho.org/disasters (click on Publications Catalog)
Oliver Morgan-Honorary Research Fellow,
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Forensic Coordinator, Assistance Division, International Committee of the Red Cross
Dana van Alphen-Regional Advisor,
Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization
Washington D.C., 2006
PAHO HQ Library Cataloguing-in-Publication
Morgan, Oliver - ed
Management of dead bodies after disasters: a field manual for first responders.
Washington, D.C: PAHO, © 2006.
ISBN 92 75 12630 5
I. Title II. Tidball-Binz, Morris - ed
III. Van Alphen, Dana - ed
2. NATURAL DISASTERS
3. DISASTER EMERGENCIES
4. DISASTER PLANNING
NLM WA 840
© Pan American Health Organization, 2006
A publication of the Area on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief of the Pan American Health Organization, the World Health Organization, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The views expressed, the recommendations made, and the terms employed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the current criteria or policies of PAHO/WHO or of its Member States.
The Pan American Health Organization welcomes requests for permission to reproduce or translate, in part or in full, this publication. Applications and inquiries should be addressed to the Area on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief, Pan American Health Organization, 525 Twenty-third Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, USA; fax: (202) 775-4578; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This publication has been made possible through the financial support of the Division of Humanitarian Assistance, Peace and Security of the Canadian International Development Agency (HAPS/CIDA), the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (OFDA/USAID), the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO).