Forensic aspects of mass disasters: Strategic considerations for DNA-based human identification

Bruce Budowle, Frederick R. Bieber, Arthur J. Eisenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


Many mass disasters result in loss of lives. Law enforcement and/or public safety and health officials often have the responsibility for identifying the human remains found at the scene, so they can be returned to their families. The recovered human remains range from being relatively intact to highly degraded. DNA-based identity testing is a powerful tool for victim identification in that the data are not restricted to any particular one to one body landmark comparison and DNA profile comparisons can be used to associate separated remains or body parts. Even though DNA typing is straightforward, a disaster is a chaotic environment that can complicate effective identification of the remains. With some planning, or at least identification of the salient features to consider, stress can be reduced for those involved in the identification process. General guidelines are provided for developing an action plan for identification of human remains from a mass disaster by DNA analysis. These include: (1) sample collection, preservation, shipping and storage; (2) tracking and chain of custody issues; (3) laboratory facilities; (4) quality assurance and quality control practices; (5) parsing out work; (6) extraction and typing; (7) interpretation of results; (8) automation; (9) software for tracking and managing data; (10) the use of an advisory panel; (11) education and communication; and (12) privacy issues. In addition, key technologies that may facilitate the identification process are discussed, such as resin based DNA extraction, real-time PCR for quantitation of DNA, use of mini-STRs, SNP detection procedures, and software. Many of the features necessary for DNA typing of human remains from a mass disaster are the same as those for missing persons' cases. Therefore, developing a missing persons DNA identification program would also provide the basis for a mass disaster human remains DNA identification program.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230-243
Number of pages14
JournalLegal Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2005


  • DNA
  • Forensics
  • Human remains
  • Identification
  • Mass disaster
  • Missing person


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