By Dr. HANS-PETER KIRSCH
Globally acting companies think about the security of their executive personnel, top executives and board members who are frequently travelling worldwide. The global players, CSOs, and all their advisory and responsible departments are watching over the security of their most valuable human resources every day. They all internally publish detailed security recommendations and procedures. Not least within this mission, they also watch over the shareholder value of their company they represent.
There are many business travel security concepts reported and implemented so far. All of them are perfectly taking care of the living. We all know about the different types of insurances, e.g. hospitalization insurance, evacuation insurance, and repatriation insurance. We also know about sophisticated global localisation systems to know where to find the travelling executives in every single minute, thus able to protect them continously, even with shortly mobilized close protection specialists if necesseary. There is no doubt that all these measures are both meaningful and also make good economic sense.
But who thinks about the absolutely unexpected? Who thinks about fatal disaster scenarios and dozens of questions referring to this? Who takes care of verbalizing the disaster preparedness procedures to be perfectly planned for this type of worst-case scenarios? Scenarios in which a company unexpectedly and abruptly has to step in front of the press, cameras, and worldwide publicity to report fatalities and give convincing explanations how this situation will be managed? Who takes care of the following time-critical tasks? The localisation and recovery or even protection of the human remains, the legal implications of disaster victim identification, the preparing and monitoring of the identification process? Who takes care of the human remains being correctly identified, released, and then repatriated in respect and dignity? Who assures the victims’ families, on behalf of the company´s management, that the company has done sufficient disaster scenario planning and has well prepared for the worst to happen?
The identification of disaster victims can be an extremely difficult and lengthy task. Its nationally performed procedures may vary extremely despite international guidelines and recommendations given by Interpol. These recommended procedures and methods of the identification process can be studied in detail in the Disaster Victim Identification Guide published on the Interpol website.
The keys to a successful identification process in disaster victim identification are qualified ante mortem data of the person who is missing, respectively presumed deceased, after a disaster. The Interpol recommended, internationally widely accepted, and scientifically proven ante mortem data comprise DNA, fingerprints, and dental status. As I know from my long-time experience, these ante mortem data are often incomplete, sometimes scientifically poor, or even not existent. They are often difficult to access in a reasonable time or even lost in the relevant disaster itself e.g. because of the lack of an out-of-office data back-up solution.
The unique human dental status is one of the proven identification methods worldwide. It survives almost any damage and is perfectly suitable for the reasons of corporate disaster preparedness. These data can hardly be misused as other personal ante mortem data (named above) which could conceivably be subject to fraud. But only a perfect odontologic documentation on file, comprising detailed dental status, dental plaster models, model scans, dental X-rays, and detailed photographs, supervised by an experienced forensic expert, will lead to fast success in a relevant disaster victim identification process.
Thus, a qualified and comprehensive pre-disaster biometric odontologic documentation and biometric odontologic data quality control of all frequent travelling executive personnel or executive personnel on missions in hazardous environments should be implemented in any internationally operating company. There should be an option to deliver these data, personally by the expert supervisor, at any place worldwide at any time on short notice if necessary.
I would like to draw your attention to the following two air crash disaster scenarios which happened in 2010. The quoted press reports following these two scenarios exemplarily give an insight into the corporate challenges and difficulties that may arise from this.
The core issues are disaster victim identification procedures, which last too long because of insufficient corporate disaster preparedness and lead to wrong results because of the very same reasons. Finally, both outcomes are inacceptable.
The first scenario affected a business charter flight.
Mining Weekly reported on June 21, 2010, that the entire Sundance Resources Ltd. board went missing on June 19, 2010, during a business charter flight between Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. They also reported in this article that Sundance Resources Ltd. suspended its operations and halted trading of its shares until further notice.
Bloomberg reported on June 22, 2010, that the wreckage of the plane was found after an extensive search and rescue operation on June 21, 2010, and that there have been no survivors of the air crash.
WAtoday reported on July 7, 2010, that the formal identification of the crash victims had been finished on July 6, 2010.
The Sundance Resources Ltd. board fatal air crash near Cameroon in 2010 demonstrated that corporate disaster preparedness seems to be still underestimated. Besides some obvious contradictions in corporate executives travel planning, the formal identification process of the victims of this particular air crash lasted far too long. ABC News reported the financial impact on the shareholder value as significant.
Searching and finding the missing plane and also the air crash victims within two days in a truly remote and very densely forested area is quite a respectable operational result. But the following identification process, from the day the victims had been found until the day their identity had been formally established, lasted for 15 days. This period of uncertainty is far too long. Unfortunately, I could not find a publication explaining this issue. But I venture to say, based on my operational experiences, that a qualified biometric odontologic documentation on file of all executives, as described above, would have significantly shortened this unbearable period of uncertainty -- unbearable for the relatives and unbearable for the company, its shareholders, and the market.
The second scenario affected a scheduled flight.
The Times of India reported on May 22, 2010, that a plane from Dubai overshot the runway while trying to land at the Mangalore´s Bajpe Airport, leaving 159 from 166 passengers and crew dead. The human remains had been reported charred beyond recognition.
Two days later, on May 24, 2010, The Times of India reported that 136 bodies already had been handed over to their claiming families. There was no information given which identification method had been used, but the fact that there had been 136 established identifications within 48 hours indicates the identification procedures as to be uncommonly and extremely fast. This result could be subject to challenge the accuracy of the identification process. Finally, there have been multiple claims in three cases, and 22 bodies remained unclaimed.
The Telegraph reported on June 3, 2010, that, according to the airline, the bodies of a dozen victims of the Air India Express crash may have been given to the wrong families for burial or cremation.
The Hindu reported on June 7, 2010, that the lack of coherent mechanisms led to a mix-up of bodies. They reported that 136 bodies had been handed over to the claiming families on the basis of visual identification alone which is known as highly unreliable.
Would your company be prepared for a comparable scenario? Would your company be able to prevent that your executives’ human remains were wrongly released after a fatal air crash or after any other deadly disaster. The quoted press reports illustrate that preventing such a disastrous outcome can be an extremely time-critical task. All corporate disaster response procedures have to be accurately prepared and planned to be successful.
Any company should think about their disaster preparedness policies, and if they could prevent such a disaster within a disaster. Maybe the probability of such an incident is small, but in the event that the risk scenario materializes, as it did especially after the air crashes described, it will potentially be disastrous for the company´s public relations and shareholder value.
It would also strongly damage the executives families’ trust, that their relatives’ companies ensure that they are taking care of their travelling executive personnel even in the most difficult scenarios.
The scenarios of unnecessarily time-consuming disaster victim identifications or, at the worst, wrong body release, have to be avoided at all times and at all costs. A perfectly planned and performed corporate disaster preparedness, supported by experienced specialists in this field of expertise, leads to a rock-solid corporate crisis communication and to a robust disaster response. Companies always being able to give a statement to the press that they are fully prepared to identify their executives with the help of qualified biometric odontologic data on file, free of doubt, on short notice, worldwide, and at any time in the case of a fatal disaster signify an excellent corporate culture and will be recompensed by the market.
Hans-Peter Kirsch, Dr. med. dent., OSA d.R., was a member of the German disaster victim identification team on missions in Thailand and Nepal. He gained awards, regularly spoke and presented at international conferences, contributed to guidelines, and published articles and scientific posters.
All the models, dental prosthetics and fragments of dental prosthetics shown in the pictures, had been solely produced as illustrations of the variance and uniqueness of the human dental status. They do not represent real casework and have never been incorporated. The readers should be aware of the fact that real cases and filed documentations are treated strictly confidential.