Disaster Mortuary

One thing I am very used to is a quiet mortuary. Generally there’s only a few of us working about, either on our own work or in groups. It only ever gets loud if there is music playing or when we do training with the nurses, but we have control over the scenarios and what is happening. On Thursday, it felt very chaotic even though it was a very organised exercise being performed, it was just not being performed by our team. We had a big group of police staff and members of the UK DVI team descend on the mortuary for an exercise in disaster management. Let me explain further!

UK DVI are the UK Disaster Victims Identification team. As you might expect, they work to identify the victims of any incident considered a disaster, such recent examples in this country would be the Grenfell Tower fire and the London Bridge terrorist attacks. Not only do they work on disasters in the UK, but they also work alongside or with teams from other countries around the world when disasters occur, particularly when UK nationals are involved.

An excerpt from the UK DVI website explaining themselves in their own words which can be found here

The police staff were divided into teams and worked in these groups to practice recording details and taking evidence from the deceased of a mock incident. This involved not only the staff wearing full protective equipment as in they had shoe covers, Tyvek suits, face masks and gloves taped to the sleeves, but they also set up our post-mortem room in the style that they would use with individual stations set up for each victim.

A glimpse of our post-mortem room where you can see three of our four stations and the observation gallery at the back of the room

From my perspective, which was observing the entire thing and giving assistance where it was needed, the most odd thing about the whole exercise was that the victims of the mock incident were alive actors who were fully dressed, placed in a body bag with a couple of blankets to lay on and were examined. It is very odd, noted by all the mortuary staff, to see someone lying on a post-mortem table and observe their chest rising and falling as they breathe. One even had a coughing fit at one point!

The teams practiced taking the evidence they needed, in this case taking photographs of the victims and removing their belongings and clothes to be placed in evidence bags. They also went through the paperwork they would need to fill out, the team split into ‘clean’ members who were completing the paperwork side of things and the ‘dirty’ members who were handling the tools and the victims themselves.

I feel very lucky to have been able to witness this exercise being completed and I hope I have taken away correct information to describe the above! In the event of a disaster near to our location, we would become the disaster mortuary for this purpose. Both the other trainee and myself agree that while it would be horrible and we don’t want anyone to go through it, it would be fascinating to see an incident in progress from the mortuary side of things.

One very odd thing, in all honesty when all the police staff were dressed up in their protective gear it really reminded me of that scene at the beginning of Hot Fuzz where Simon Pegg’s character is trying to find his SOCO (Scene of Crime Officer) girlfriend in a sea of people dressed the same. While laughing at this comparison in my head I recognised a pair of eyes peeking through below the hood of a Tyvek suit. Turns out it was a friend from a long time ago that I haven’t seen for about a decade! We had a great catch up afterwards and it was brilliant to see them, it’s so funny how life plays out sometimes.

Aforementioned scene from shot Fuzz, the girlfriend or ex-girlfriend actually played by Cate Blanchett in a little known cameo!

Still one very exciting thing to happen this week that I am also very nervous about. I will announce what is happening once it’s complete and I’m happy to share. If you have any questions about the above, please do get in touch!

MG x

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