Mass fatalities plan in place

Although everyone involved hopes it is never called into action, a sub-committee of the National Hurricane Committee has been assigned with the task of dealing with the possibility of mass fatalities after a disaster.

NHC Chairman Donovan Ebanks explained why the sub-committee is necessary even though only two people died as a result of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004.

‘We may not always be so fortunate,’ he said.

The sub-committee’s tasks, which are detailed in the 2006 National Hurricane Plan, address the possible impacts of an earthquake, tsunami or airplane crash, in addition to hurricanes and other bad storms, with the purpose of establishing a framework for mass fatalities management.

The activities of the sub-committee would include the collection and initial identification of bodies, the notification of family, and the final disposition of the victims, either in the Cayman Islands or through return to their country of origin.

The National Hurricane Plan states this it is the policy of the Government to provide a means of processing and disposing of the deceased in the event that a disaster results in the deaths of more than 15 people.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police will assume the overall responsibility for mass fatality management. Organisations and other entities that will assist in the task include the Emergency Operations Centre, the Cayman Islands Fire Services, the coroner, Cayman’s hospitals and the Portfolio of Civil Service.

Mass Fatality Management Chairman Committee Chairman Detective Chief Inspector Kurt Walton said teams have been identified in each district to search and recover bodies after a disaster.

Ideally, these teams would include a Criminal Investigation Department officer, a fire officer, an Environmental Health officer, a photographer and a medical practitioner.

Normally, a pathologist would attend the scene of a death, but Mr. Walton said that in the case of mass fatalities, it would most likely not be possible because Cayman has only one pathologist.

‘We recognise the practicality of the situation might not allow that,’ he said, adding that Cayman could receive the assistance of pathologists from Jamaica and the United States that sometimes assist in Cayman.

Items that would help in the identification of the body would be gathered and put into waterproof document cases. After the body is photographed as found and a morgue number attached to the body, it will be placed in a body bag and transported to the morgue.

Mr. Walton said toe tags and 500 body bags are already on island.

‘I have all the body bags presently stored at the Central Police Station,’ he said. ‘On any sort of alert [of a possible disaster], those body bags would be distributed to each team in each district.’

Mr. Walton said he believes each district will receive 15 body bags in advance of a disaster.

Transportation of a body to the morgue would ordinarily be done with a hearse from one of Cayman’s private sector funeral homes.

‘That would continue to be the position [in the event of a disaster],’ Mr. Walton said.

However, if there is a great number of bodies or if the hearses on island are damaged in the disaster, Mr. Walton said the sub-committee ‘would probably have to be very innovative’ with transporting the bodies to the morgue.

Since the morgue at the hospital can hold only six bodies, Cayman’s two funeral homes – Bodden Funeral Services and Churchill’s Funeral Home – have agreed to serve as temporary morgues for any additional bodies recovered after a disaster, Mr. Walton said.

‘They can take 50 [bodies] between the two of them,’ he said.

Besides heading up the Mass Fatality Management Committee, Mr. Walton is still a police officer with other duties.

‘I have my own operational orders that trigger into effect [in the case of a disaster],’ he said.

One police operational procedure in the event of a disaster causing mass fatalities will create a Casualty Bureau, Mr. Walton said. That entity, which would be located centrally and equipped with satellite telephones to ensure communications, would give the media and the Joint Communication Services sub-committee accurate and current information on any deaths.