Medicolegal Death Scene Investigations After Natural Disaster- and Weather-Related Events: A Review of the Literature
Luciana A. Rocha, Catharine Q. Fromknecht, Sarah Davis Redman, Joanne E. Brady, Sarah E. Hodge, Rebecca S. Noe
Background: The number of disaster-related deaths recorded by vital statistics departments often differs from that reported by other agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-National Weather Service storm database and the American Red Cross. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched an effort to improve disaster-related death scene investigation reporting practices to make data more comparable across jurisdictions, improve accuracy of reporting disaster-related deaths, and enhance identification of risk and protective factors. We conducted a literature review to examine how death scene data are collected and how such data are used to determine disaster relatedness.
Methods: Two analysts conducted a parallel search using Google and Google Scholar. We reviewed published peer-reviewed articles and unpublished documents including relevant forms, protocols, and worksheets from coroners, medical examiners, and death scene investigators.
Results: We identified 177 documents: 32 published peer-reviewed articles and 145 other documents (grey literature). Published articles suggested no consistent approach for attributing deaths to a disaster. Researchers generally depended on death certificates to identify disaster-related deaths; several studies also drew on supplemental sources, including medical examiner, coroner, and active surveillance reports.
Conclusions: These results highlight the critical importance of consistent, accurate data collection during a death investigation. Review of the grey literature found variation in use of death scene data collection tools, indicating the potential for widespread inconsistency in data captured for routine reporting and public health surveillance. Findings from this review will be used to develop guidelines and tools for capturing disaster-related death investigation data.