Civil emergencies

Ante-mortem procedures

In the context of disaster victim identification (DVI), ante-mortem refers to the processes surrounding collection and analysis of material or property that may have related to the victim prior to death. Ante-mortem procedures also refer to processes associated with survivors and the management of missing person reporting.

Ante-mortem team

This team:

Ante-mortem coordinator

The ante-mortem coordinator (AMC) manages the tasking of family liaison officers and crime scene investigators in collecting suitable comparative samples for analysis and comparison during ante-mortem procedures.

The AMC is responsible for the compilation and quality of data in respect of each person reported missing and believed to have been involved in the incident, but who has not yet been accounted for, or identified as deceased. This data is compared with all available data collected from post-mortem procedures to provide identification during the reconciliation process.

The AMC‘s responsibilities can be undertaken by the casualty bureau (CB) manager or family liaison coordinator working directly to the senior identification manager (SIM).

Family liaison strategy

The gold commander ensures that a family liaison strategy is developed and implemented by the senior identification manager.

The key objectives of a family liaison strategy are to:

  • assist the effective investigation into the death of an individual in a mass fatality incident
  • obtain a full family background, ante-mortem data, exhibits and other details as required by the SIM and the coroner or procurator fiscal
  • provide the family with as full and up-to-date information as possible about the incident and its investigation
  • define a suitable structure for the delivery of the family liaison strategy.

Family liaison officer

The FLO assists the senior identification manager and senior investigating officer (SIO) to achieve the identification and investigation strategies (unlike a crisis support worker who provides emotional and practical support to the family or friends). DVI trained FLOs should be used when available, as they have additional expertise in ante-mortem collection in a mass fatality incident.

The FLO is responsible for:

  • undertaking day-to-day interaction with the family of the deceased
  • acting as the initial link between the family and the SIM
  • completing the yellow ante-mortem forms
  • gathering ante-mortem data and evidence as required by the SIM’s ante-mortem data collection strategy
  • maintaining a written log of all contact with the family and other parties connected to the family, eg, solicitors
  • collecting evidence as required by the investigation strategy
  • facilitating contact with other statutory and voluntary agencies
  • supporting the family in their contact with the media
  • facilitating family visits to the scene or family viewing area as appropriate
  • returning all personal property of the deceased in accordance with the wishes of the bereaved, as directed by the FLC.

Family liaison coordinator

The senior identification manager may consider appointing an FLC if the scale and nature of the incident require the deployment of multiple family liaison officers. An FLC is usually a police officer, of supervisory rank, who is experienced in the field of family liaison.

The FLC is responsible for:

  • acting as the single point of contact for the SIM
  • acting as the ante-mortem coordinator, when appropriate
  • facilitating the implementation of the family liaison strategy
  • advising the SIM (and SIO if required) on family liaison issues
  • fully documenting all decisions and rationale
  • coordinating the availability and deployment of FLOs, including to families outside the force area
  • supporting FLOs
  • ensuring that the health, safety and welfare of FLOs is considered and appropriate risk assessments and support are in place
  • managing the skills, knowledge and experience of the FLO team in terms of culture, lifestyle and equality, diversity and human rights issues
  • coordinating all information arising from multiple FLO deployments
  • ensuring all documentation is completed accurately and submitted in a timely manner
  • liaising with the CB manager and AMC
  • coordinating family viewings in liaison with the police mortuary operations coordinator
  • agreeing exit strategies for all FLOs deployed
  • ensuring all personal property of the deceased is returned in accordance with the wishes of the bereaved.

Ante-mortem sample collection

The family liaison officer should supervise the collection of samples (using a crime scene investigator where appropriate). The continuity of the sample from collection to laboratory examination needs to be carefully recorded and a method of sample labelling needs to be established.

Any personal effects of a missing person must have evidence of provenance in the form of documented witness accounts and an audit trail.

Ante-mortem dental comparison and odontology

Ante-mortem dental comparison samples may be collected from dental practices and orthodontic practices as well as directly from the family or home of the missing person believed to be the deceased.

Dental records do not follow the patient, so the family liaison officer should ask the family for the names of the missing person’s current and previous dentists to ensure all relevant dental information is collected.

When requesting samples from professional medical and dental sources, it is important to ask for:

  • dental charts and all dental records
  • all correspondence
  • X-rays
  • models (casts)
  • specialist records
  • medical and dental clinical photographs.

Ante-mortem evidence that may be collected from the family or home may include:

  • recent photographs of the person smiling and showing their teeth
  • recent photographs of the person from both the side and the front.

Ante-mortem DNA sample collection

DNA comparison is most efficient when a DNA profile from deceased persons or human remains can be matched against a comparative sample held on the national DNA database.

Four types of DNA can be obtained as part of the ante-mortem data collection strategy.

Reference DNA – a profile that is stored on the national DNA database. A national DNA database record will only be available if the deceased had previously come to police attention.

Surrogate DNA – a profile obtained from objects and materials that are likely to yield the DNA profile of the deceased. These are usually personal objects used exclusively by the deceased. Examples include:

  • comb
  • hairbrush
  • toothbrush
  • headwear
  • razors
  • gum-shields
  • footwear
  • gloves
  • medical inhalers.

Familial DNA – a profile obtained from known, close blood relatives of the deceased. These are:

  • natural mother
  • known natural father
  • and/or confirmed sons and daughters of the deceased.

Elimination DNA – a profile obtained to confirm or eliminate a surrogate or familial DNA profile. For example, a sample from a sibling of the same sex may be provided so that the DNA profiles can be compared and demonstrate that they are indeed related siblings. For a UK-based incident, the National DNA database crime stain kits (eight-series bar codes) should be used. This ensures that each individual sample is labelled with a unique bar code. The reference sample kits should be submitted to the laboratory as soon as possible. If there is to be any delay in submission, the kits and DNA samples should be frozen.

Ante-mortem fingerprint sample collection

A specialist fingerprint officer should collect latent fingerprint marks, which should be compared on the National Automated Fingerprint Information System.

There may be other means of obtaining a set of latent fingerprint marks, and these should be explored by the family liaison officer. These may include fingerprints taken by the police and held by the Criminal Records Office. Some workplaces now use biometric data, which may include fingerprint records held by the human resources or personnel department.

Where possible, fingerprint experts should have relevant fingerprint data collected during post-mortem procedures when attending the ante-mortem data collection site. This may speed up and simplify the identification process and significantly reduce the stress of such procedures for the family.

Identification criteria

The criteria used to identify the deceased are set by a coroner or procurator fiscal in consultation with the senior identification manager. The lead pathologist is also consulted.

The agreed criteria determine which primary identifiers should be used and they, in turn, define the ante-mortem data collection strategy. Secondary and assistance identifiers are usually used to support primary identifiers.

Normally, one primary identifier is sufficient for identification, but following the best evidence rule, this will be accompanied by as much secondary and supporting information as possible to satisfy accurate identification. Visual identification is not, in itself, a reliable form of identification, and cannot be relied on as accurate.


Table showing primary identifiers, secondary identifiers and assistance identifiers.

Survivors reception centre

This is a secure place for survivors not requiring acute medical treatment. The investigation and identification processes for survivors commence at the survivors reception centre (SRC) and include documentation for input into the casualty bureau.

If the incident was a result of criminality, potential suspects and witnesses may also be present in the SRC.

The bronze SRC manager is responsible for:

  • liaising with the local authority manager
  • commanding the police personnel deployed
  • ensuring that all the survivors (within parameters set by the SIM) are documented on the approved survivor/evacuee forms
  • ensuring that documentation is submitted to the CB.

Family and friends reception centre

This is a secure place where the family and friends of people directly involved in the incident can receive initial support and advice.

A bronze family and friends reception centre (FFRC) manager is responsible for:

  • acting as the initial manager of the FFRC
  • working with a local authority centre manager (if appointed)
  • appointing a family liaison officer to support and assist in investigation and identification, where appropriate.

All personnel working at an FFRC should be familiar with and work to Disaster Action (2008) Working with Disaster Survivors and the Bereaved: Code of Practice on Privacy, Anonymity and Confidentiality.

Later in the incident, the FFRC may evolve into a humanitarian assistance centre (HAC) run by local authorities. Police involvement may still be required.

Hospital documentation teams

A police team should be deployed to each hospital receiving casualties from an emergency or major incident. Each team should have a team leader, who is responsible for:

  • liaising with the hospital authorities
  • ensuring that police enquiries are conducted effectively
  • ensuring that all documentation is completed for each victim and survivor
  • ensuring that a missing person (misper) form is completed where an injured person taken to hospital has family or friends still missing and unaccounted for
  • advising the senior identification manager of injured people who have limbs missing so that the scene evidence recovery manager (SERM) can be advised accordingly
  • providing advice to family and friends of people missing who have attended the receiving hospitals seeking information, and directing them to a family and friends reception centre.

Hospital team documentation forms include:

The forms should be quality assured and sent to the casualty bureau or ante-mortem team as appropriate.

Page last accessed 23 July 2018