U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs; National Institute of Justice The Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice ProgramsNational Institute of JusticeThe Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice

Learning from 9/11: Forensic Science and Identifying Human Remains

Robert Shaler, Pennsylvania State University (ret.).
NIJ Conference 2011
June 20-22

Robert Shaler I think the most important thing happened on the first day was that we began to reorganize the laboratory. We had to set the laboratory up so we could continue to work casework because rapes and homicides, although they stopped for a couple of weeks, they were gonna continue. We knew this was going to be a long-term process, so we had to make sure that the laboratory was prepared to handle samples, catalogue samples, so we wouldn't mix things up. And that became a very difficult thing to do, but we still, by the end of the first day, we were ready to begin accessioning disaster samples coming into the laboratory. And this was important for long term because we had to make sure that the samples were coming into the laboratory had unique numbers and had unique identifiers so that they wouldn't get mixed up down the road.

Each mass disaster or mass fatality event is unique. You look at the World Trade Center was different than Katrina, was different than the tsunami, was different than the Haitian earthquake, different than what happened in Japan. But the identification process is the same in that you need certain kinds of samples in order to make identifications. You need to have the samples from the victims. You need to have family samples, and if possible, to get personal effects from the people who died. Now the personal effects, getting the personal effects from the World Trade Center was easier than for, let's say, Japan, or the Haitian earthquake because entire families died, and so the personal effects were gone. In the tsunami, the personal effects are gone. And so it's very, very difficult to get those kinds of samples. Dental records is another way to make identifications, but you need to have access to the dental records, and if the dental records are washed away, then they don't exist. And so that complicates the whole identification process.

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NIJ Conference
Interview
June 2011
Robert Shaler, Pennsylvania State University (ret.)

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Date created: August 22, 2011