Proposal for an Enhanced Disaster Investigation Protocol

Prepared by Professor Glenn P. Corbett
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
March 6, 2002

Need for an Enhanced Protocol
When a major disaster strikes in the United States, very important questions typically arise: What happened? Why were so many lives lost? How can we prevent this from happening in the future? These questions need answers. If we are to protect ourselves and future generations, we must learn the lessons of the disaster and apply them. For past disasters like the Oklahoma City Bombing and the Northridge Earthquake, a variety of research projects were undertaken. While these research projects produced very useful information, they were conducted independently, without the benefit of a central coordinating body to integrate all of the information. In addition, it has become apparent that some of the very critical lessons never found their way into general design practice–there is a disconnect between the private sector code-writing organizations and the lessons coming out of the research projects.

Since disasters are multi-disciplinary, they require an integrated and comprehensive approach. The disaster must be investigated as a whole, following standard investigative procedures. A single standardized model can be developed for all disasters, with a specific set of “adaptable” procedures for each type of disaster.

Development of an Enhanced Disaster Investigation Protocol
Since FEMA has responsibilities for disaster response and disaster mitigation, it is suggested that the development of an enhanced disaster investigation protocol be initiated within FEMA. Other Federal agencies and private sector organizations with
disaster responsibilities/interest would obviously need to participate in the development of the protocol. The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation procedures provide a very useful model for which to begin the development of an enhanced disaster
investigation protocol.

“Organizational” Details of a Enhanced Disaster Investigation Protocol
Organizationally, an enhanced disaster investigation protocol:

  • Utilizes an investigative “lessons learned” approach to analyzing disasters.
  • Provides a detailed investigation “command structure” to establish which agency is in charge and the limits of its investigative authority.
  • Details the responsibilities of each participating organization.
  • Establishes the specific types of disasters that will be investigated and the necessary resources needed for each type of disaster.

“Functional” Details of an Enhanced Disaster Investigation Protocol
Functionally, an enhanced disaster investigation protocol:

  • Incorporates a “rapid response” capability, allowing for the immediate deployment of a initial set of investigators to plan the investigation, secure evidence, and to begin the documentation process.
  • Ensures the deployment of self-sufficient, disaster-specific “specialist teams” to the scene to conduct the detailed investigation work (similar to USAR organization).
  • Ensure that periodic press releases are issued to inform the public of the investigation and its progress.

“Coordination” Details of an Enhanced Disaster Investigation Protocol
In order to ensure coordination, an enhanced disaster investigation protocol:

  • Ensures that liaisons are appointed to the local incident commander’s command post, search and rescue teams (e.g. USAR), and criminal investigation organizations (e.g. FBI) to ensure coordination with their efforts.
  • Ensures that the appropriate “specialist teams” are deployed and are working together efficiently.
  • Ensures that additional “outside” research efforts are integrated into the investigation.
  • Ensures that a regimented set of meetings with specialist team leaders and staff are held to review progress and to keep investigation on course.

“Final Report” Details of an Enhanced Disaster Investigation Protocol
In order to produce a comprehensive report, an enhanced disaster investigation protocol:

  • Ensures that the specialist team leaders are assembled to provide oral presentations to other team leaders/staff and to provide written draft reports for inclusion in Final Report.
  • Ensures that the staff support collates the team reports and configures them into a standardized, “single author” report format.
  • Ensures that long-term research needs are identified and documented for inclusion in the Final Report.

“Applied Lessons” Details of an Enhanced Disaster Investigation Protocol
To ensure the application of the “lessons learned,” an enhanced investigation protocol:

  • Appoints code-writing organization representatives to investigative “specialist teams.”
  • Establishes a “formal agreement” with the private-sector code-writing bodies that ensures every recommendation for a change in the codes will be formally reviewed by the code-writing body. Final disposition of “disaster” code change proposals (including rationale if code change is rejected) will be formally documented and issued back to the affected disaster investigation organizations.

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