Fatality Management

Photo provided courtesy of Robert A. Eplett, OES California

When a catastrophic emergency occurs, hospital morgues will quickly reach capacity and hospitals will need to implement internal mass fatality plans.

Hospitals should plan for the appropriate bagging and storage of the dead, and consider the evidentiary needs (bodies stored with some space/distance between bodies, appropriate identification/labeling of the body). If the body is contaminated, special bagging, handling and labeling procedures must be ensured. The hospital plan for management of mass fatalities must also include a procedure for providing information about viewing the dead by family members. Careful identification and tracking of the dead must be documented by the hospital and provided to authorities when requested.  

Each county in California has a sheriff/coroner, a coroner or a medical examiner. It is his or her duty is to manage the remains of deceased persons within the county, their personal effects, and to inquire into the causes of death under specified circumstances. In a catastrophic emergency also involving mass fatalities, this officer serves as the Operational Area Coroner Mutual Aid Coordinator. The State is divided into seven coroners’ mutual aid regions, and each region has a Coroner’s Regional Mutual Aid Coordinator. Each Operational Area coroner/medical examiner is advised to develop local contingency plans to deal with mass fatality emergencies, including those involving chemical, biological and radiological contamination of human remains.

As indicated in the Office of Emergency Services Mass Fatality Plan, a temporary morgue may need to be established if the number of dead exceeds the resources of the local mortuaries. Hospitals should be in contact with the Operational Area Emergency Operations Center to learn where temporary morgue sites have been established in their community.