In British Columbia, the Coroners Act requires that the coroner confirm the identity of the deceased and how, when, where and by what means death occurred for all traumatic and sudden and unexpected deaths. This is the same in a mass disaster.
As outlined in the Province of British Columbia Earthquake Immediate Response Plan (IRP), the role of the BC Coroners Service (BCCS) in a mass disaster may encompass some or all of the following:
- Lead the mass fatality branch at the Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre (PECC)/Provincial Earthquake Response and Recovery Centre (PERRC)
- Activate the Mass Fatality Response Plan
- Designate a temporary morgue and fatality collection points
- Co-ordinate with search technicians to support timely and appropriate recovery of deceased victims
- Take custody of deceased once remains are recovered
- Ensure appropriate transportation and storage of deceased
- Ensure identification and cause of death are established and issue the Medical Certification of Death
- Manage the chain of custody for deceased and belongings found on their person
- Lead and co-ordinate public reporting regarding confirmation of death and identification of deceased
- Liaise with the Family Assistance Centre
Responses from all levels of government, critical infrastructure owners and agencies will occur in the event of a disaster and these will be tested during the Coastal Response Exercise. The BCCS will test our plans, resources and specialised training during the course of the exercise in order to better plan and prepare for a future exercise and a catastrophic event.
In the event of a mass disaster, interagency co-operation will be necessary for an effective response to what will be a challenging situation for all affected jurisdictions. The immediate response, sustained response and recovery phases will be the responsibility of Emergency Management British Columbia and the BCCS is a key agency in each of these phases along with other stakeholders.
It is recognized that the BCCS will require logistical and /or operational support from local, provincial and federal authorities in the co-ordination of fatality management activities; these requests for assistance will come through appropriate communicative avenues. Examples of requests for support are forensic identification services (i.e. pathologists, forensic anthropologists, forensic odonatologists), temporary (i.e., portable) and longer-term morgue services, essential equipment and associated services and security.
Each and every day, confirming the circumstances of deaths and facilitating the return of the deceased to their loved ones is one of the primary goals of the BCCS. In the case of a mass disaster, the goal remains the same. In doing so, BCCS take great care to honour the cultural and religious needs of the families involved.
B.C. Earthquake and Tsunami Exercise
Exercise Coastal Response is Western Canada’s first, full-scale earthquake and tsunami response is a test of the B.C. Immediate Response Plan (IRP) that outlines the steps that the Province and its partners will undertake in the immediate aftermath of a massive earthquake. The goal is to exercise elements of the IRP and strengthen relationships among and across partners and stakeholders to enhance operational co-ordination. Learn more about Exercise Coastal Response