City, County Develops Plan In Case Of Mass Casualties

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Since 9/11, local governments have been coming up with plans to deal with mass fatalities. For the past two years, a committee has been working on a plan for Minnehaha County and the City of Sioux Falls that can be copied across the state.

Minnehaha County Coroner Dr. Kenneth Snell says he knows that in an event that ends in mass casualties, families don’t want to wait.

Snell said, “We like to be able to turn those individuals around and identify them and release them as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, other events take much longer Katrina, as you know, took a long  time, 9/11 took a long time.”

That’s why local and state officials have come up with a plan to deal with such events.

“If we have more than ten individuals that die in a single event, we potentially consider that a mass disaster event and activate the stuff we have today,” said Snell.

Say there’s a plane crash. Men, women and children are dead. Police and National Guardsmen would process the scene, later to be reconstructed. The remains would be collected and if contaminated, a HAZMAT team would step in.

“Our plane crash over there, what we worry about it jet fuel, it could cause harm to us so we would want to clean those individuals,” said Snell.

To prevent decomposition, the bodies would be taken to a mobile cold storage unit. Minnehaha County can cool up to 24. The remains are then examined in a mobile morgue trailer.

Snell points to mobile morgue trailer, “This unit allows us to do two examinations at a time at a remote location.”

There, they can collect fingerprints and dental x-rays, which will help identify victims faster, but Snell says finding and collecting the small things can make a difference.

“People have unique jewelry on their bodies, that unique jewelry can be used to establish preliminary identifications,” said Snell.

A Family Assistance Center would also be set up for counseling and to collect important information.

Snell says he has worked the scene of a plane crash where 21 people died. Using a process similar to this one, they were able to loved ones to their families within a week.

Snell says their mass fatalities plan is a lot like the one on the national level. Several different local, state and federal agencies will go through the tour this week.

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