Human Remains Management

Human Remains Management in disasters

It is the procedures for handling and recovering dead bodies are outlined in Management of Dead Bodies after Disasters.  The four key points to remember in times of crisis and emergency which will dictate your equipment requirements:


  • Collect the bodies and bring them to a body-holding area for storage. Where this is not possible, consider temporary on-site burial, and ensure precise mapping and records of the burial, as well as the grave’s contents, are recorded. Separate body parts should be treated as individual bodies.


  • Bodies should be stored individually in body bags. Where unavailable, use plastic sheets, bed sheets or other suitable material to protect and ensure the dignity of the remains. Refrigerated storage is best. Where unavailable, consider temporary burial (refer to above). Personal belongings (including documents) should not be separated from the remains. To avoid loss, store them inside the corresponding body-bag or container using assigned, unique body number.


  • Unique body number
  • Brought by (name, organization)
  • From (exact place)
  • Date
  • Place where the body is stored or buried. If buried, include map.
  • Situation permitting, taking pictures of the deceased is strongly recommended to facilitate later identification.


  • Each body and corresponding body bag,coffin or any related evidence and the burial site should be tagged and marked indelibly with the assigned, unique body number. Ensure that the number will remain visible to allow tracking of the remains, evidence and corresponding information in case of exhuming the body. Ensure chain of custody is recorded i.e. all movements and transfers of the remains.

Other important points:

  • Bodies do not create epidemics. Avoid and prevent hasty disposal (burials or cremations) of the dead.
  • Ambulances must not be used to transport human remains – they are more useful for the wounded and sick.                                                                                                                                                                                                  The kits are intended for use in situations which require the recovery of a large number of corpses due to natural or violent death, but not for deaths resulting from viral infectious diseases.
  • Remember, the colour of the body bags should be choosen bearing in mind local culture.
  • The equipment and number of items should always be adapted to case-specific needs.

What is Embalming.

It  is the art and science of preserving human or animal remains by treating them (in its modern form with chemicals) to forestall decomposition. The intention is usually to make the deceased suitable for public or private viewing as part of the funeral ceremony, or keep them preserved for medical purposes in an anatomical laboratory. The three goals of embalming are sanitization, presentation, and preservation, with restoration being an important additional factor in some instances. Performed successfully, embalming can help preserve the body for a duration of many years. Embalming has a very long and cross-cultural history, with many cultures giving the embalming processes a greater religious meaning.

Embalming is distinct from taxidermy. Embalming preserves the human body intact, whereas taxidermy is the recreation of an animal’s form often using only the creature’s skin mounted on an anatomical fo

Design of a Mortuary

The design a mortuary is prepared keeping in view
the intake of morners, doctors, students in a medical college, workload, condition of the various bodies being brought for postmortem examination and to have workable atmosphere as to cleanliness & breathing with fresh air and natural light to be available in each room of the mortuary.
The mortuary complex must be located at a short distance from
the hospital, at a sight which is secluded but easily accessible.

There should be a direct link between the hospital and the mortuary to
facilitate easy delivery of the dead bodies for autopsy from the wards.

  • It should have adequate parking space.
  • It should be preferably centrally air conditioned.
  • Mortuary must consist of the following:-
    1. Veranda should be in front of the faculty office, autopsy surgeon
    room in which these should open and working windows for the
    reception room .
    2. Autopsy surgeon’s room where the Autopsy surgeon /medical officer can discuss details of the case with police and relatives and write reports peacefully without any disturbance.
    3. Stores- for clean gowns, aprons, rubber gloves, gumboots, towels etc.
    4. Reception/ room for mortuary supervisor: where
    inquest papers are received and details are entered in a register.
    There should be a counter with glass panel and working window on
    the sides with access to the doctor’s room.
    5. Toilet for general public.
    6. Investigating officer for the police in some cases including space for personnel accompanying the body who has to watch and take care
    of the dead bodies in the mortuary complex.
    7. Veranda/shade for trolley etc.
    8. Walled enclosure with gate.
    9. Pre Autopsy Room; the capacity of the cold storage
    room should be depending upon the number of the dead bodies
    e.g. for keeping 10-15 bodies before the post-mortem examination.
    As soon as the body is brought to the mortuary it should
    be kept in this room with complete identity. This should have cold
    storage facilities (cold chambers in the form of refrigerated cabinets)
    with a temperature maintained between 4-6.5°C. Adequate space
    for keeping the extras dead bodies on the trolleys, if needed, should
    be there.
    10. Post Autopsy Room: should have a central platform
    for handing over the body to the investigating officer
    who subsequently handover the body to the relatives for final
    disposal after competition of the post-mortem examination.
  • General guidelines for mortuary designs
    Every mortuary should have following minimum facilities:-i)
    arrangements for receiving the dead bodies from the hospital or
    from outside, with separate arrangements for keeping decomposed
    and infectious bodies (known HIV/hepatitis death cases) etc. ii)
    for performing autopsies; iii) Handing over the dead bodies after
    postmortem examination to the relatives/ undertakers through police;
    iv) postmortem viewing gallery for the students /IO /nominees as per
    court orders etc.; v)other basic essential requirements like offices and
    related rooms as detailed below.
  • These all should have basic office facilities like furniture, telephone and other infrastructure, etc. as per need for smooth functioning.
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