Aug 15, 2005 | Last March, the United Kingdom contracted with software company Gene Codes to use its Mass Fatality Identification System (M-FISys) for disaster recovery efforts and as a missing persons database. But the Britons weren’t banking on needing it so soon.
In the wake of the July 7 terrorist bombings in London, Chris Maguire, a senior scientist at the Forensic Science Service (FSS), called Gene Codes CEO Howard Cash, who flew to London to set up the database on July 12.
Gene Codes, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., developed the M-FISys database after September 11 to identify victims of the World Trade Center attacks through DNA analysis (see “Soul Searching,” September 2003 Bio-IT World). M-FISys was also used following the tsunami disaster (see “Tsunami Investigators Tap Gene Codes Database,” April 2005 Bio-IT World, page 1).
Each disaster is accompanied by unique circumstances and complications, some of which call for last-minute upgrades. “One of the things we’re working on right now are location markers,” Cash told Bio-IT World shortly before flying to London. “With the four sites in England, you don’t expect the remains of someone found at King’s Cross to also match with someone who was in the bus that exploded. We need metadata for what should and should not logically go together.”
FSS, which Cash calls “one of the most respected forensic labs in the world,” plans to use M-FISys to match DNA samples provided by family members with remains found at the four sites. Most of the 50 or more bombing victims will be identified by traditional means. DNA analysis will only be needed to identify victims closest to the blasts.
Unlike the September 11 and tsunami disasters, the London bombings were confined to four specific areas. “The remains are not badly compromised like they were in the World Trade Center,” said Cash. “These are not huge numbers or a wide geographical dispersion as with the tsunami.” However, all of the recovered bodies and body parts in London must be X-rayed to determine whether the blast embedded debris or pieces of other bodies into specimens. Also slowing the recovery effort are the stifling temperatures in the deep tunnels of the London Underground, the need for isolation suits (to counter asbestos contamination), and rats. If the terrorists’ remains are identified, they will promptly be escorted away from those of the victims.