Just Managing Mass Fatality Incidents

Just Managing Mass Fatality Incidents

Original Release Date: February 17, 2023

In episode four of our Unidentified Human Remains mini season, Just Science sat down with Katharine Pope, a Research Public Health Analyst at RTI International, and Elissia Conlon, a Special Advisor to the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner, to discuss mass fatality incident management and disaster victim identification. 

A mass fatality incident includes any incident where there are enough fatalities to require the involvement of a special operation or organization, such as natural disasters, large transportation accidents, or terrorist attacks. In the event of a mass fatality incident, significant time and resources are often needed to manage the situation and identify as many victims as possible. Listen along as Katharine and Elissia discuss methods for identifying disaster victims, agencies that assist with mass fatality management, and developing best practices for disaster planning.   

This episode of Just Science is funded by the National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (Award #: 15PNIJ-21-GK-02192-MUMU).

Some content in this podcast may be considered sensitive and may evoke emotional responses, or may not be appropriate for younger audiences. 

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Episode Citation

McKay, J., Pope, K., & Conlon, E. (2023, February 17). Just Science. Just Managing Mass Fatality Incidents. [Audio podcast episode]. The Forensic Technology Center of Excellence.

Guest Biography

Katharine Pope, over the last 14 years, has worked as a Forensic Investigator and Anthropologist in Texas, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware medical examiners’ offices and for the Disaster Mortuary Operations Response Team (DMORT). Investigating missing and unidentified persons is a top priority in Kat’s career, which began after receiving a 1-year postgraduate fellowship at the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (now called the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency) to work as a Casualty Analyst in the WWII Section. She is the Chair for the Society of Forensic Anthropologists (SOFA) Board of Directors and a Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). She assisted in the development of the Forensic Anthropology Database for Assessing Methods Accuracy, a community-wide collective resource for case data to observe trends in biological profile estimations and method preferences. She created and implemented continuing education lectures and open forum discussions on topics important to the Forensic Anthropology community, such as ancestry estimation and ethical treatment of human remains. She volunteered with Operation Identification excavating unidentified migrants on the Texas/Mexico border. In her spare time, she studies and teaches effective mental health and wellness structures to support her fellow last responders. 

Elissia Conlon is the Special Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner of Forensic Operations and Investigations for the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) where she provides strategic counsel to key agency leadership in support of aligning cross-departmental policy. Elissia is responsible for overall quality assurance for the division with direct oversight of the Forensic Quality Control Unit, charged with providing independent quality assurance over mortuary operations. She serves as the agency’s Department of Homeland Security Grant Manager and in this role manages multi-million-dollar award allocations necessary to sustain and augment the agency’s development and implementation of preparedness initiatives. Elissia holds a Bachelor of Art’s degree in Physical Anthropology from Hunter College of the City of New York (2001). She has served OCME since 2002, first as a contract anthropologist on the World Trade Center Recovery Operation and later as a planning consultant through the Health Resources and Services Administration Bioterrorism Hospital Preparedness Program to develop the New York City (NYC) Pandemic Influenza Surge Plan for Managing In-and-Out of Hospital Deaths before formally joining the OCME in 2008. While employed at OCME, Elissia was first assigned to the Special Operations Division where she focused her experience in mass fatality incident management operations and maintains her hazardous materials technician certification. While with the OCME, she has been instrumental in developing the agency’s mass fatality management planning, preparedness, and response capabilities. Between 2009 and 2014, she served as the agency’s Operations Center Manager coordinating information and resources in support of mass fatality operations. Elissia supporting the NYC COVID-19 mass fatality response as the Health Care Facility Body Collection Point Task Force Lead responsible for developing policy and coordinating resources to support managing the surge of fatalities in NYC hospitals. She also supported the COVID-19 Long Term Storage operation and demobilization. Elissia has participated in various other mass fatality management working groups, such as the Mortuary Affairs Science and Technology Working Group and the Scientific Working Group for Disaster Victim Identification (SWGDVI). Elissia served as a member of the Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC) Disaster Victim Identification Subcommittee (DVI SC) from 2014 – 2018, as Vice Chair until 2019, and as Chair until 2020 when the DVI SC became a task group under the Medicolegal Death Investigation (MDI) SC. Elissia served as a Member at Large of the MDI SC continuing to chair the DVI task group before being appointed to her current position as chair of the Medicine SAC where she now provides strategic direction for standards development in Forensic Anthropology, Forensic Odontology, Forensic Nursing and Medicolegal Death Investigation. Elissia is an Associate Member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences General Section and a subject matter expert on the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Standards Board’s Mass Fatality Management and Disaster Victim Identification (MFM-DVI) consensus body. Elissia was appointed to the Forensic Science Standards Board in 2022 and serves as Chair of the Medicine SAC. 

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this podcast episode are those of the presenter(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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