Katrina Update: Tracking The Dead

In the nearly 15 months since Hurricane Katrina battered the southeast coast of the U.S., 887 of the unidentified storm victims recovered in Louisiana—about 98%—have now been identified, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Identifying the bodies was a year-long, frustrating task, according to Dr. Louis Cataldie, Louisiana’s emergency response medical director, who spoke to Baseline shortly after last year’s storm.

A source of Cataldie’s frustration was the Victim Identification Profile (VIP) database system. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deployed the customized FileMaker Pro database to keep track of information on the dead and missing—some 11,000 people were unaccounted for following the storm. Cataldie found that VIP, versions of which were set up at the morgue and at a family assistance center that was tracking the missing, lacked many features, such as interoperability with other state and federal databases and the ability to search across all data fields, instead of having to specify fields to search.

But VIP has since been “tweaked and enhanced,” says Dr. Ann Norwood, a senior adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The system has been modified using a newer version of FileMaker Pro—version 8.0—so that data fields in the VIP applications used in the morgue and in the family assistance center are identical. VIP also can now import and export data between other applications, such as a state missing-persons database, using either eXtensible Markup Language or other connectivity standards. And while VIP cannot search across data fields today, the application could now be programmed with that capability.

VIP still doesn’t include features such as a program to automatically alert workers to apprise a family of the missing or dead about the status of a case.

But Norwood says she and her colleagues have been researching fatality management software programs and are briefing HHS leadership on their findings. A replacement may be in the offing.