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Ten-One Community Edition September 05

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Improving police performance

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DVI exercise tests staff and systems

It was 'just' an exercise and the 'bodies' an assortment of dummies and shop mannequins, but the team on last month's disaster victim identification (DVI) exercise in Auckland treated each body as if it was real.

DVI exercise tests staff and systems

The aim of the multi-agency exercise involving NZ Police, Auckland City Hospital's Forensic Department, Royal New Zealand Air Force, and local SAR volunteers was to test the current plan for DVI and draw upon the knowledge of people who worked on DVI after the Boxing Day tsunami in Asia.

OC of the exercise, Sergeant Dene Duthie, Auckland Search and Rescue, says the exercise was about testing processes rather than individual skills.

"We were there to learn - it is much better to test the process and identify problems under simulated conditions rather than in real life," says Dene.

As 'bodies' from the 'bus crash' piled up in tents outside Auckland City Hospital's mortuary, the DVI team inside worked to collect vital information that would enable the 'victims' to be identified.

The exercise followed DVI protocols laid down by Interpol. There were teams responsible for body handling, administration and quality control, fingerprinting, property, pathology (including DNA, X-ray, and dental), and photography. Conditions were as close to real life as possible. Fingerprints were taken from live volunteers and most of the mannequins were dressed allowing the property staff to properly document and account for victims' belongings.

The standard Interpol process is designed to encourage compatibility of procedures across international boundaries - essential in these days of ever-increasing world travel.

Inspector Gerry Prins, OoC oversees emergency management for NZ police and DVI is part of his portfolio. He compares DVI to a 'whodunit' where you start with nothing and work through a series of steps to successfully 'solve' the case by identifying the victim.

Many of the staff taking part in the exercise were part of the NZ Police contingent to Thailand following the tsunami. "While the DVI in Thailand was huge, we were well-prepared for the task. Being prepared and exercises like this are essential," says Dene.

Overall Dene was impressed with how the operation went. "The teamwork and cooperation were great. There were some small things to change but we walked away knowing we have the systems and people to cope," says Dene. Staff from the Auckland coroner's office, who observed the exercise, were also impressed with the level of preparation demonstrated by the exercise.

Operation Clean-Up involved police staff from all three Auckland districts. There are also police DVI teams in Wellington and Christchurch.

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