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Dutch identification set-up evolves into an international standard

Work at Thailandís worst hit area

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

PHUKET, Thailand - International forensic experts at work to identify thousands of people killed in Thailand in the December 26th tsunami, have adopted the methodology used by the Dutch Disaster Identification Team (RIT) as their standard.

Set up at the new Disaster Victim Identification Center, about thirty teams of experts act as a clearinghouse for information about the thousands of people still missing.

The Dutch team had created an efficient and reliable work flow now used by Interpol experts and the other teams. This method of sorting and arranging and of recording information is highly structured. By adhering to the Dutch methods, other teams as well now minimize risks of making identification errors.

The method first separates bodies of foreigners from those of Thai victims, if such a distinction can be made visually. In the first stage, experts describe distinguishing marks, such as skin colour, scars and tatoos. At the second stage, dentists describe dental evidence.

The third group of experts takes fingerprints, after which in the fourth stage, a pathologist extracts bone or tooth fragments for DNA typing. All information is entered into a database.

Identification team members in the Netherlands and other countries in the meantime collect comparison data, including photographs and dental records. These are entered into the computer as well, allowing experts in Phuket to compare them with local records. Family members could be asked to provide DNA, which then is sent to labs in the U.S. for processing.

The Dutch team is part of the police department and will stay in Thailand until all victims have been identified. Individual members will rotate duty on a regular basis with others in the Netherlands.

Three weeks after the disaster, the official Dutch death toll stands at nine. About 30 people are still listed as missing.