Mass fatality incident

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Mass Fatality Incident (abbreviated MFI) is an emergency management term used to identify an incident involving more dead bodies and/or body parts than can be located, identified, and processed for final disposition by available response resources.

Although it is a somewhat relative term in that there is no widely accepted number of fatalities that define an MFI, it is generally recognized that if the number of fatalities exceeds the local city or county's resource capabilities causing them to request assistance, or mutual aid, from neighboring jurisdictions, the term applies.

Mass fatality incidents may or may not be a result of a mass casualty incident (MCI), which is considered a different type of incident and usually focuses more on managing the surviving victims of an incident. MFI and MCI may, and often do, occur simultaneously. MFI differ from MCI in that most, if not all, of the victims of the incident are deceased. A catastrophic plane crash with no survivors is one example of an MFI. Part of the distinction between MFI and MCI is because different kinds of resources are needed to manage each. Living victims are attended to by medical personnel such as EMS, deceased victims are attended to by medical examiners or coroners.

Mass fatality incidents may be either human-caused, such as hazardous materials releases, transportation accidents, or terrorist attacks, or they may be the result of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, or severe weather.

Some significant mass fatality incidents are:

One of the naturally occurring incidents with great potential to cause a MFI is pandemic influenza (flu). The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 killed millions and overwhelmed response resources on a global level. A modern pandemic could have similarly overwhelming impacts. Catastrophic incidents that result in mass fatalities usually also result in mass injuries and/or illnesses. While it is more important to dedicate resources to care for the living, many people have public health concerns about the dead. This is one important reason why jurisdictions usually include mass fatality planning as part of their overall emergency preparedness efforts.

After some MFIs authorities have conducted hasty mass burials, and research has shown this is a generally unsatisfactory response. Mass burials are usually not required for public health reasons, they increase distress among survivors and interfere with long-term community recovery. In all cultures there are customs and rituals for dealing with the dead. Universally survivors want to know what happened to their loved ones, and that their loved ones' remains were treated with respect. These are important reasons to plan for mass fatality management.

Response functions[edit]

The primary response functions in a mass fatality incident are:

  1. Human remains recovery - the search & rescue efforts to locate bodies and body parts, marking and documenting the location of found remains, and eventually transporting the remains to either decontamination or the site morgue for examination as appropriate.
  2. Decontamination (depending on event) - the "cleaning" of either chemically or biologically contaminated remains to make them safe for further handling and examination.
  3. Examination
  4. Identification & death certification
  5. Processing for final disposition

Mass fatality management resources[edit]

The following may provide helpful information for mass fatality planning: - Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) is part of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) and provides support to the National Transportation Safety Board and other mass fatality requirements.Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT)


Emergency management


  • Morgan OW, Sribanditmongkol P, Perera C, Sulasmi Y, Van Alphen D, et al. (2006) Mass Fatality Management following the South Asian Tsunami Disaster: Case Studies in Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. PLoS Med 3(6): e195. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030195
  • Capstone Document: Mass Fatality Management for Incidents Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, US Army Research Development & Engineering Command and Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Domestic Preparedness, August 2005.
  • Mass Fatality Plan, National Association of Medical Examiners, 2005.