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What is DMORT?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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A DMORT is a Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, a group of individuals who work together to handle mass fatality incidents. In the United States, DMORTs come from 10 regions, and the DMORT system is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. A DMORT can also travel internationally for humanitarian work to assist with mass fatalities in nations which may have trouble handling such events on their own.

The concept of the DMORT was developed in the 1980s, in response to concerns about how mass fatalities were handled. Family members of victims often complained about the process, feeling that it was too slow and that they were not treated with respect, and the concept of developing a specialized team which could deploy to the site of a disaster was developed.

When a DMORT arrives on site, it is prepared to handle every step of the process, starting with victim identification and ending with disposition of the remains. The team includes forensic scientists, coroners, forensic anthropologists, x-ray technicians, fingerprint specialists, funeral directors, pathologists, forensic odontologists, investigators, transcriptions, and numerous other support personnel. Often, a DMORT deploys with a Disaster Portable Morgue Unit (DPMU), which is like a forensics lab in a box.

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The members of a DMORT are civilians, who usually have busy lives beyond their DMORT duties. When the decision to activate a DMORT is made, the civilians are treated as federal employees for the duration of the deployment, which entitles them to certain protections and benefits. After the need for the DMORT is over, the team members disperse to go back to their regular lives.

Members of a DMORT team must remain certified and credentialed in their specialties, and many of them are among the most talented in their fields. They regularly attend continuing education classes, conferences, and other events to keep their skills sharp, and they also attend DMORT training and meetings with other team members. The goal is to keep people sharp and always alert so that when a DMORT is needed, people can swing into action quickly, as time is often of the essence in a mass fatality event.

In addition to working directly with the victims of mass fatalities, DMORTs also work with family members, reuniting people who may have become separated and assisting people with the process of claiming remains and benefits. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, the Find Family National Call Center was administered by a DMORT which worked with victims to help them find family members, committing to remain open for at least two years and possibly longer.

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