Coroners and Mass Fatality

Dennis Smithson
Assistant Chief, Region V
(916) 317-0397 

The Coroners’ Mutual Aid & Mass Fatality Management Planning Program is an integral component of the California Law Enforcement Mutual Aid System. In the event of incidents that result in mass fatalities, the Coroners’ Mutual Aid System and plan serve as an essential resource to the impacted local Sheriff-Coroner, Coroner, or Medical Examiner should mutual aid be requested. To assure an effective and efficient response, the Law Enforcement Branch State Coroners’ Mutual Aid Coordinator coordinates all inter-regional mutual aid and state agency activity relating to mutual aid under the Coroner Mutual Aid Plan. The State Coroners’ Mutual Aid Coordinator is the state point-of-contact for any out-of-state official request for coroners mutual aid.
In October of 2006, the CalOES Law Enforcement Branch incorporated a catastrophic mass fatality management planning element into the Coroners’ Mutual Aid Program. Hurricane Katrina, the World Trade Center 9-11 attack, and the Indian Ocean tsunami, among other events, provided the stimulus to initiate prepared planning for California in the event of an incident resulting in catastrophic mass fatalities.
A State Mass Fatality Management Planning Committee was established as a forum to discuss and advance critical mass fatality management planning issues. In September of 2007, with the assistance of this committee, the Law Enforcement Branch published a mass fatality planning guide to assist federal, State, and local agencies in preparing for a catastrophic mass fatality event.

The CalOES Coroners’ Mutual Aid Program publishes and maintains several documents to assist Coroner/Medical Examiners and other emergency management disciplines in correctly applying coroner mutual aid while offering planning guidance to agencies developing their own mass fatality plans and programs. The following documents are offered in pdf form for on-line reading or downloading. These publications will be updated as necessary, any comments or suggestions for improvement are welcome and should be forwarded to the program coordinator. 

The California Coroners’ Mutual Aid Plan is a companion document to the Law Enforcement Plan. The Corners’ Mutual Aid Plan describes the statewide Sheriff/Coroner, Coroner, and Medical Examiner organization, mutual aid procedures for requesting mutual aid. In addition, it provides a description of state and federal agency role and responsibilities as they relate to coroners’ mutual aid. 

The Coroners’ Quick Reference Guide has been developed to provide a concise front and back overview of the coroners’ mutual aid system. It is ideal for designated department mutual aid coordinators. 

The California Coroner Operations Guide details the coroner organizational response to a mass fatality event incorporating the Incident Command System (ICS). 

The California Mass Fatality Management Guide: A Supplement to the State of California Coroners’ Mutual Aid Plan distinguishes the state’s role and responsibilities in a event that results in catastrophic loss of life. Additionally, the guide recognizes critical issues in mass fatalities while offering planning guidance in the management of a mass fatality incident.  

The California Dental Identification Plan serves as framework of operations for the Forensic odontologists of California to assist Neighboring jurisdictions through the Coroners’ Mutual Aid System in the event of a mass fatality Disaster which may require a large number of dental identifications.  

The State Mass Fatality Management Planning Committee was established to provide a forum to identify and address state agency roles and responsibilities in a catastrophic mass fatality incident. In addition the Committee will aid in the development and maintenance of a document describing the state’s mass fatality organization and functional role. Furthermore, the purpose of the committee Is to forge alliances with public, private, and volunteer organizations in order to enhance mass fatality response and recovery activities.