Are We Ready for Mass Fatality Incidents? Preparedness of the US Mass Fatality Infrastructure

Jacqueline A. Merrill, Mark Orr, Daniel Y. Chen, Qi Zhi, Robyn R. Gershon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective To assess the preparedness of the US mass fatality infrastructure, we developed and tested metrics for 3 components of preparedness: organizational, operational, and resource sharing networks. Methods In 2014, data were collected from 5 response sectors: medical examiners and coroners, the death care industry, health departments, faith-based organizations, and offices of emergency management. Scores were calculated within and across sectors and a weighted score was developed for the infrastructure. Results A total of 879 respondents reported highly variable organizational capabilities: 15% had responded to a mass fatality incident (MFI); 42% reported staff trained for an MFI, but only 27% for an MFI involving hazardous contaminants. Respondents estimated that 75% of their staff would be willing and able to respond, but only 53% if contaminants were involved. Most perceived their organization as somewhat prepared, but 13% indicated not at all. Operational capability scores ranged from 33% (death care industry) to 77% (offices of emergency management). Network capability analysis found that only 42% of possible reciprocal relationships between resource-sharing partners were present. The cross-sector composite score was 51%; that is, half the key capabilities for preparedness were in place. Conclusions The sectors in the US mass fatality infrastructure report suboptimal capability to respond. National leadership is needed to ensure sector-specific and infrastructure-wide preparedness for a large-scale MFI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-97
Number of pages11
JournalDisaster medicine and public health preparedness
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016


  • disaster
  • emergency preparedness
  • epidemiologic methods
  • hazardous substances
  • health policy
  • mass fatalities
  • network analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Are We Ready for Mass Fatality Incidents? Preparedness of the US Mass Fatality Infrastructure'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this