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J Bus Contin Emer Plan. 2009 Nov;4(1):33-46.

Emergency management and mass fatalities: who owns the dead?

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LA County EMS Agency, Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670, USA.


Mass fatality incidents are always unexpected and put a sudden stress on local response agencies to cooperate and share resources to accomplish tasks that are outside their normal activities. Lines of legal authority are often conflicting when two or more agencies are statutorily in charge. Within the USA, the local coroner system is almost universally delegated as responsible for all involved tasks including body recovery, yet the coroner is almost always the smallest responding agency, with the smallest labour pool from which to draw and the least experience of formal Incident Command System (ICS) procedures at large incidents. This paper explores the many tasks required following a mass fatality incident and the necessity for pre-event written agreements to be negotiated between local, state and federal agencies to ensure that material and personnel can be readily shared and reimbursed without bureaucratic misunderstanding in order to accomplish known objectives. Also explored are potential National Incident Management System conflicts in applying unified command to situations where legal authority and level of commitment are not synonymous.

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