Mortuary operations in the aftermath of the 2009 Victorian bushfires

Forensic Sci Int. 2011 Feb 25;205(1-3):8-14. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2010.11.002. Epub 2010 Dec 14.


On the day of the 2009 Victorian bushfires the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine activated its emergency plan. Within 48 h a temporary body storage facility was constructed adjacent to the existing mortuary. This temporary facility had the capacity to store up to 300 deceased persons. Pathologists, anthropologists, odontologists, police and mortuary assistants responded from all around Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. The existing forensic mortuary and staff were divided into two areas: DVI (disaster victim identification) and "routine operations". A high priority for the mortuary was to ensure the casework of the "routine" deceased persons (those cases which were not related to the bushfires) was handled concurrently and in a timely manner. On admission each set of victim remains was given both a Coroner's case number in addition to the DVI number allocated at the scene. The case was CT scanned, examined by a pathologist, an anthropologist, and odontologist and in some instances a fingerprint expert. Where possible a DNA sample was taken. All processes, samples, labels and paperwork underwent a quality assurance check prior to the case completion. Regular audits were conducted. All of post mortem examinations were completed within 20 days of admission. Occupational health and safety issues of the staff were a high priority; this included correct manual handling, infection control and psychological debriefings. During the operation it was found that some remains were contaminated with asbestos. Procedures were set in place to manage these cases individually and each was isolated to reduce the risk of exposure by staff to asbestos. This overall mortuary operation identified a number of significant challenges, in particular the management of multiple parts of human remains for one individual. A new procedure was developed to ensure that all human remains, where possible, were reconciled with identified deceased persons prior to the release to the funeral director. It also highlighted the need to have well documented plans in place including plans for temporary mortuary facilities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asbestos / toxicity
  • Australia
  • Disasters*
  • Documentation / standards
  • Facility Design and Construction
  • Fires*
  • Forensic Sciences / organization & administration
  • Health Facilities
  • Humans
  • Mobile Health Units
  • Mortuary Practice / organization & administration*
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control
  • Quality Control
  • Role
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Asbestos