Student member Kirsty Bullen reports on the AAPT/UKDVI training event run on 23rd August
On a rather damp August morning I arrived with two of my colleagues at the AAPT headquarters in Coldbath Square for a Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) training day. A few months earlier we had taken part in a local DVI exercise using our regional designated disaster mortuary to see how the current plans would actually fall into place so I had some idea of what I might be getting myself into, but I was still looking forward to learning more about the process and what was expected of APTs.
After being welcomed by Alison Anderson, we were treated to that ever-favourite ice-breaker: lets-go-around-the-room-and-introduce-ourselves. As it turned out, aside from today’s speakers, most of us had either no previous DVI experience or, like myself, only been on one simulation exercise before today.
Discovering that we all had quite a lot to learn Dave Ridgewell took the first session, explaining to us about the UKDVI team and the supportive role of the APT in the DVI process. There is a register of those APTs who can be called upon to be deployed in the event of a mass fatality event and we were all encouraged to think about joining this.
Currently this is managed by 5 experienced APTs who have been involved with the DVI process from as far back as the late 90s (assisting with identifying victims of the Bosnian genocide) to more recent events such as the Grenfell Tower fire. There is the opportunity to be deployed as part of a group of APTs to events in the UK and abroad and with some years of experience and the right qualifications to become another team manager.
However, we were warned that we should think carefully about the impact that being part of this group would have not only on our working lives, but our family lives too – it may be that our workplace would allow us leave to join the UKDVI team when called upon, but would we be able to manage being away from home for a few weeks at a time when we have partners and children to consider too? And are we prepared for long working days (sometimes up to 14 hours!) and very little sleep? (That’s quite a tough one, I have to say I do love my bed…)
Following on from this introduction to the DVI process Lydia Judge Kronis took a different approach to her session in both style and subject.
She focused on the emotional and mental wellbeing of APTs involved, exploring the current support networks available to APTs (mostly non-existent) and revealing how she has been trained as a councillor, using these skills to assist APTs involved in DVI deployments to come to terms with some of the inevitable horrors that they might see.
Lydia encouraged some of us to share moments from our careers where we’ve felt in need of such assistance – there was a variety of situations, showing that we’re all human but highlighting that we often don’t have anyone that we can turned to who has been properly trained to talk us through these situations. Lydia also pointed out that it can be quite easy to get caught up in the adrenaline of a DVI situation (as much as we’re all here because we want to help the victims and their families, part of the draw of it has to be an element of excitement, however much we might not want to admit it) and that once it’s all over we could feel a sense of loss and deflation – something else that we might also need some support for so that we can properly adjust back to our day to day lives.
I found Lydia’s discussion really fascinating and I think I would like to pursue the idea of training to be a specialist councillor for APTs in the future.
Coming back to more practical arrangements nearer to home Dave (Colvin this time) was joined by Dave Ridgewell (again!) to talk us through the requirements of a Designated Disaster Mortuary – unlike in previous years where the plan for the DVI process was a temporary mortuary to be set up that included all the facilities that could possibly be needed, most resilience planning now was geared towards using a mortuary that was already up and running and adapting it for use by the UKDVI team.
As they both took us through numerous considerations that would need to be taken into account, the true scale of an DVI operation was sliding into focus – just the number of wellies that would be needed (and the space to store them) for not only the APTs but the pathologists, odontologists and all the variety of police officers involved (to name but a few) was staggering! Options such as keeping the mortuary running without interference to its day to day business needed to be weighed up against moving out all the deceased and the work elsewhere depending on the size of operation being undertaken.
Also, plans to ensure that the mortuary would be able to have all the necessary supplies for PPE and equipment to enable the DVI process to go ahead would need to be in place.
Rounding off the morning was a talk given by Detective Superintendent Alan Crawford who currently manages the UKDVI operation (with Detective Inspector Howard Way) who led us through previous events, how they were managed and how the process has changed slightly as lessons have been learned each time.
Sometimes processes have occurred in the past that we are horrified to think of now (such as the removal of hands for fingerprinting or jaws for odontology) but at the time went ahead without the advantage of hindsight. Every DVI operation has given the team the opportunity to learn something new and improve the process for the future.
After lunch and a chance to chat with the others attending the training day we were ready for an afternoon of more practical exercises. The first was to pair up and discuss how our home mortuaries could be adapted for use as a designated disaster mortuary. We’d all brought along floor plans of our departments and used these to work out where we might house specific parts of the DVI process, such as a mobile CT scanner and a body reception area.
We also discussed whether we thought our departments would be able to cope in terms of capacity, security, waste and even linen supplies. Feeding back to the group, there was a mixture of ideas and obstacles we had identified – some worked in mortuaries that were already marked out as a designated disaster mortuary and it was interesting to see how they thought it might actually work in reality, whether it was simply an issue of outside space for a CT scanner and car parking, or that there would be a complex route through the department itself of the deceased that could cause a hinderance.
Time and time again, however, the age-old concern of just having enough capacity to cope with the influx of deceased reared its ugly head – we were almost united in the opinion that in Winter, it just simply couldn’t happen.
Moving on from our own departmental concerns Alison introduced a mass fatality scenario to us that we were to work with for the remainder of the afternoon. The purpose of the long tables in the other half of the room and the heavy-duty shopping bags lined up that I’d been spying on since the morning came to light – laid out on each table now, were items of clothing and jewellery that were to be our deceased and we were tasked in teams to use the Interpol DVI post mortem information forms to record these items. Assured that they’d all been through a boil wash (and the underwear was Primark’s finest, all brand new!) we quickly got to work, soon realising what a lengthy process it can turn out to be!
Whilst the majority of this would normally be done by a team of police officers it helped to familiarise us with the paperwork, in case we were ever called upon to take over the job of being scribe, and with the sort of information that they would be needing from us about the clothing and other identifiable features.
My group was fortunate to find a passport, mobile phone and credit card in the jean pockets of our deceased - this could never be taken as a certainty of identity but it gave us a head start and thankfully all other features matched up with the ante mortem information for the person of the same name! After all the groups had given their guess at the identity of the deceased they were working on (we all managed to get it right, phew!) it was time for us to say goodbye and start our journeys home. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and found the mix of activities and discussions really interesting and a great way to learn about all the aspects of DVI that we would need to know. Since that day I have successfully signed up to be part of the UKDVI team and I look forward to working with them in the future.