Global database to link missing persons and disaster victims

A project to assist in the faster identification of multiple victims or missing persons following a man-made or natural disaster and in day-to-day policing is being spearheaded by INTERPOL in collaboration with five European partners, including the University of Dundee.

The FAST and efficient international disaster victim IDentification (FASTID) project is being developed with experts from the German Federal police Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), the IOSB and IGD departments of the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, Danish company PlassData, Crabbe Consulting Ltd and the University of Dundee, with funding by the European Commission.

Following the Asian tsunami in 2004, the INTERPOL General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2005, recognising the need to establish a centralised database to identify and link missing persons and/or unidentified bodies.

Based on INTERPOL's tools, including its globally recognized Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) protocols combined with its Yellow Notices, for missing persons, and Black Notices, to seek information on unidentified bodies, the FASTID project is aimed at providing a ‘one stop shop' for teams in the field either responding to a disaster or national police trying to locate a missing person.

"After a major tragedy, such as the Asian tsunami, it is vital that with so many countries involved either in terms of victims or first responders, that there are standardized and recognized procedures to ensure the fast and efficient identification of victims so that they can be repatriated as quickly as possible," said Peter Ambs, INTERPOL's FASTID project leader.

"The combined elements of this database and its accessibility to law enforcement across the world via INTERPOL's global network will help meet the needs of both day to day policing and for those responding to
disasters, where and when required," added Mr Ambs.

As part of the FASTID project, research is also being carried out into image retrieval methods, including a computerized system to browse and identify potential matches to help forensic identification in relation
to faces, tattoos, body jewellery and clothing.

Craniofacial reconstruction, 3D morphing and superimposition will also be examined by the project team to establish if these techniques can also be integrated into the system.

The three year project will be led in Dundee by Prof Sue Black and Dr Caroline Wilkinson working with Dr Chris Rynn and Dr Jan Bikker.

The University of Dundee will provide expert training as part of the project. The Disaster Victim Identification programme at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) at Dundee has already trained more than 500 police officers from around the UK in a joint initiative with the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK Government.

Officers trained under the initiative learn practical techniques in human identification and can be deployed to help identify victims of mass fatalities anywhere in the world.
  
The Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee is an internationally-leading centre in the fields of human identification, forensic anthropology, cranio-facial reconstruction and the study of the human body. The Centre's work was recently featured in the major BBC2 series `History Cold Case'.

"The aim of the DVI programme is to provide a standardised response to any major disaster anywhere in the world, so that the people arriving on the ground know what is expected of them and can start working together quickly and efficiently," said Professor Sue Black, Director of CAHID.

"The spur for the international training programme came from the response to the Asian tsunami, which showed the need for improved methods of reporting and data handling, which are key in building the evidence base to make identifications of hundreds or thousands of missing people.

"Our entire programme is aimed at speeding up the ante-and post-mortem procedures so that we can get IDs to families as soon as is possible."

Professor Black and her team have extensive experience in DVI following deployments to incidents all over the world, including Kosovo, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Thailand.

Officers who attended the UK DVI programme attended a demanding week-long residential course in Dundee where they were trained in a variety of disciplines appropriate to working in a temporary mortuary, and also awareness of issues pertaining to forensic pathology, forensic anthropology, forensic odontology, forensic radiography, mortuary management and tissue sampling.

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