PhD Dissertations: Amy Mundorff, 2009

Human Identification Following the World Trade Center Disaster:  Assessing Management Practices for Highly Fragmented and Commingled Human Remains

This study is a retrospective analysis of major management decisions, particularly those that involved anthropology, made during the World Trade Center human identification project.  The objective is to explain why certain decisions were made and how these decisions affected the overall identification project from the perspective of increased efficiency, accuracy, and by increasing the number of identifications.  Based on these results and insights, a list of recommendations is provided to help mass fatality managers better incorporate anthropological expertise into disaster victim identification projects.

Data used in the study are derived from the complete World Trade Center Human Remains Data Set of 19,970 human remains recovered from Ground Zero and the Staten Island Landfill in combination with qualitative evaluations of management decisions made by the author during the World Trade Center identification project from September 11, 2001 through July 2004.  Particular emphasis is on subsets of the World Trade Center Human Remains Data Set related to the implementation of anthropological review programs addressing commingled remains and DNA sampling.  Results indicate that the management decision to have anthropologists perform triage in the mortuary, and the decision to implement specific review programs designed to address missed commingling, increased efficiency, accuracy and identification.

Evidence indicates that the lower limb bones more reliably yield successful DNA profiles than the arms, trunk or skull.  Further, the patella and metatarsal bones yield at rates comparable to the femur and tibia and should be preferentially sampled for DNA during mass identification projects.  This research holds both empirical and theoretical significance.  It provides the first empirically based study comparing DNA yields of different skeletal elements from a mass fatality event.  It is also the first to use that information to propose disaster victim identification DNA sampling guidelines.  Finally, it presents a framework for other mass fatality managers to follow in presenting critical evaluations of major management decisions made during a mass fatality disaster identification project.  These evaluations will increase the overall collective learning and contribute to future recommendations for other mass fatality managers to follow.