Suppose a 747 airliner crashed outside Redwood Falls; of course, regional emergency response teams would rush to the scene to help the survivor, but what about those who don’t survive?
Suppose a 747 airliner crashed outside Redwood Falls?
Of course, regional emergency response teams would rush to the scene to help the survivor.
But what about those who don’t survive? Who takes care of them?
Nate Stephens, owner of Minnesota Valley Funeral Home in Redwood Falls, knows. Stephens is a member of the state’s Disaster Mortuary Emergency Response Team (D-MERT).
D-MERT’s mission is to coordinate teams of volunteers — many of them funeral directors — who give their time and efforts in emergency situations where the death toll overwhelms local mortuary resources.
Any crisis that could result in large numbers of dead — a disease pandemic, a terrorist attack, a building collapse — might cause D-MERT volunteers to be called up from around the state.
D-MERT teams are activated when the governor declares a public health emergency, and someone must oversee the care of dead human bodies on the scene.
That can involve everything from setting up temporary morgues, to transporting bodies to their local funeral homes, to helping the survivors deal with grief.
Once the emergency responders on the scene have done all they can for the living, the volunteers of D-MERT move in.
One of the first steps is setting up a temporary morgue to identify and treat the bodies, and to provide security for valuables.
If the scene is large enough, D-MERT can set up separate stations for autopsies, X-ray and dental records, and embalming.
“We have to secure the scene so it doesn’t become a public health threat, and to keep away gawkers,” said Stephens.
In the case of a suspected terrorist attack, the FBI sets up its own station, and D-MERT volunteers must under the supervision of law enforcement.
“If it’s a crime scene, everything we touch is evidence, and has to be handled as such,” Stephens said. “We need clearance to do our work first; everyone is very sensitive to that if we’re on a crime scene.”
Stephens also noted, “Everything is all very confidential. We’re not allowed to talk to the public or the media. We’ll have a spokesman give updates as information comes in.”
During D-MERT training, the volunteers have to learn to work around hazardous materials such as leaking gasoline or anhydrous ammonia. Preventing spread of infectious diseases is especially difficult.
To date, Stephens hasn’t been deployed to a D-MERT site yet. He said most times it’s called in is for smaller emergencies, with only a few victims.
But if anything should happen, there’s a crew in place to take care of those left after the rest of the emergency crews leave.