Improving Death Scene Investigation Processes and Death Reporting Practices after Disasters

For the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NORC developed a toolkit and complementary training to improve identification and attribution of disaster-related deaths. The Toolkit gives death scene investigators and death certifiers a common framework for collecting and documenting disaster-related information.

To inform the development of this toolkit, NORC conducted a literature review and environmental scan to better understand what data are currently being collected after a natural disaster. NORC also established a workgroup of key experts in the medicolegal death investigation field—including death scene investigators, medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement agents, forensic pathologists, and epidemiologists—to discuss the landscape of current death scene investigation processes for disasters and make recommendations for more systematic data collection and review and evaluate the appropriateness of the draft toolkit to the intended audience and feasibility of the proposed implementation. Resources developed as part of the toolkit were carefully researched and vetted to ensure they were appropriately tailored for death scene investigators as well as piloted within select regions that had fatalities associated with specific disaster types in the past few years.

NORC's approach to the development of the Toolkit brought together stakeholders from the public health and forensic science communities, two overlapping but often separate fields of study.

The Toolkit was published in July 2017 and a supplemental training was launched in April 2019. The training provides death scene investigators and other stakeholders information about the toolkit development and reviews how to use the various tools available for death scene investigators. Continuing education credits are available through CDC and the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI).

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