There is a lot of info regarding first-aid procedures and how people should act, and what they need to do to keep their loved ones safe. However, there’s little to no information regarding the aftermath of a catastrophe that has deadly results for the population.
We’ve been lucky so far, and we haven’t experienced disasters that caused mass causalities, and everything we’ve experienced as preppers in terms of disasters and emergencies was manageable by the local authorities.
But what would happen if you and your neighbors were forced to deal with the reality of mass causalities?
Are you prepared to deal with dead bodies? Do you know how to properly dispose of dead bodies after the dust settles?
Consider this scenario
Imagine if there were an epidemic much more serious than the Covid pandemic and there isn’t any cure for it. A few months into such an epidemic would make the death toll skyrocket around the world.
If such a scenario leads to hundreds of millions or even one billion causalities, you, your family, and some neighbors might be lucky to escape the worst of it by sheltering in place, but sooner or later, you will need to face the outside world.
The remaining survivors that are either immune or managed to protect themselves by isolating themselves from the outside world will need to deal with the piling bodies. They might have been lucky enough to survive, but the dead corpses outside are still a problem because they bring bacteria, infection, and diseases.
It’s time to take care of the dead bodies. But how?
What you should expect
Being exposed to people who died as a result of unnatural causes is not a pleasant human experience and is not part of our normal activities. People who have access to hospitals and funeral homes have grown accustomed to handling dead bodies, but you’re probably not one of these people.
In a survival situation where death has occurred, you may have to touch and move the dead bodies, and you will probably hear the gruesome sounds of rigor mortis or of built-up gases escaping. These are not normal experiences and circumstances, and it will require some mental strength on your part to overcome them.
Death isn’t a pleasant experience. It will never be pleasant, and it will never be an easy-to-accept experience. That’s why we must be mentally prepared for it once we are exposed to such an experience.
The dead bodies you will encounter after a major catastrophe or natural disaster will sometimes be horribly damaged. There will be fluids, odors, sounds, and terrifying images that you will remember for a long time.
The discovery, removal, and burial of dead bodies is often a messy job, especially if you lack some basic materials like gloves, body bags, tarps, and so on.
It will be difficult to suppress your empathy for a once-living person who is now dead in front of you. It is incredibly hard to control yourself if that person is a loved one. However, there is an important task you need to take care of, and it must be completed quickly and correctly since your own survival may depend on it.
You need to get it over with before things get messier, and you will have more work down the road.
Planning and organization
Think before you act because you are about to do something unpleasant, and it will be difficult to do it for a variety of mental and physical reasons.
As with everything in life, preparation is essential. The better prepared you are for the task at hand, the faster and easier it will be to complete it.
To deal with the dead bodies or their remains, you should have particulate masks, latex gloves, and body bags. However, since you probably won’t have access to body bags, you would use large, heavy-duty garbage bags. Most preppers already have these items in their emergency supplies, so for them, things should be easier.
It’s also recommended to have a camera at hand or a phone’s camera to document the situation. You will need a pen and paper to make notes and record names and other details that would help future identification. Also, keep some boxes or envelopes in reach since these will be used to store personal belongings if they are available.
Once you have the needed items, you will need to make a plan with those that will help you dispose of the dead bodies. This is by no means a one-man job, and you need the others survivors to help you. Some will dig the graves while others can help collect names and information and record everything that’s worth mentioning. There’s also the need for manpower to help you carry the bodies.
You will have to delegate responsibilities and get those able to handle the situation involved since you won’t be able to do it alone. Also, there more you get people involved, the more you will be able to keep their minds busy and somewhat off of what is actually happening.
Everyone involved should wear masks, gloves, boots, and any other gear that would protect them from touching the bodies and getting infected or contaminated.
Survivor’s guilt is a huge psychological burden, and those that survived will often question themselves and the reasons why they survived and others perished. The more time the dead bodies are left in view, the more survivor’s guilt will amplify, and it can lead to other tragedies.
Once you’ve provided medical aid to the survivors, your immediate concern should be to dispose of the dead bodies so that the mental state of the survivors won’t be pushed to the limit. The recovery phase is a complex one, and you need to be able to handle it.
There will be people missing, and perhaps there’s a need to organize search-and-rescue teams since you need to find the bodies and transport them to the burial site. You will need help identifying the victims, so ask those that knew them what their names are and find out every detail you can that would help you make a possible identification.
Identifying the victims
It’s important to mention that, depending on the disaster, you may find pieces of bodies, and you shouldn’t spend time trying to match the parts together. Bag the parts and bring them to the identification or burial site.
Once you find a body, place it in a body bag or wrap it in a tarp or sheet since it will help you distance yourself from the physical act of interacting with a dead body. Covering up and wrapping the dead bodies helps those already traumatized by the event. Not to mention that a body bag keeps all the parts together, and it’s easier for identification. It’s recommended to note the location and time of when the body was found and take pictures for identification.
When dealing with mass causalities, it’s important to keep accurate records of all the bodies you’ve recovered and handled. This will help tremendously when the situation gets resolved, and the authorities will get involved.
There are legal ramifications to handling and disposing of dead bodies, and the authorities will want to know why you decided to do it. Perhaps, the bodies will be retrieved and re-buried in a proper cemetery. One thing is certain, the sooner you are able to identify the bodies, the quicker the authorities will be able to handle them.
Here are a few suggestions that should help with the identification process:
Assing a reference number to each body and each body part you are able to find. There should be a unique identification number, and these numbers should be sequential.
Label each body or body part. The label should contain the reference number, the date and time where it was found, the gender (if distinguishable), and any other information you might have about the body/body part. The label should be made of waterproof paper, and it should be attached to the body/body part or placed inside the body bag.
Take photographs since these can provide a visual aid to better identify the person. There should be photographs of the full body, the whole face, the body parts from various angles, and distinctive marks such as scars and tattoos but also for personal effects.
Record and store the personal effects since these can help with the identification process. Once you gather the personal effects (wallets, watches, purses, jewelry, etc.), you will need to create a record for each of them, and then you need to store them properly. These objects can be stored in a safe location if storing them with the body is not possible, but make sure you are able to match the personal effects to the corresponding bodies.
Proper disposal of dead bodies
Bodies will begin to decompose within a short amount of time, depending mostly on the climate where they are located. In general, facial recognition becomes more difficult as the body continues to decompose, and the gases building inside the body may cause it to burst. Not to mention the smell, which becomes overpowering the more the body decomposes.
Since you probably won’t be able to keep the bodies cold during an emergency with mass causalities, you will have to figure out ways to dispose of the dead bodies. The best option you have is to dig temporarily burial sites and bury those bodies.
Not only will it help you preserve the bodies since the temperature underground is cooler than at the surface, but it will also help you keep the bodies out of sight, decreasing the traumatic effects on everyone around.
The burial site should be at least 600 feet from any source of drinking water, and you should take into account a few other factors as well. Think about the water table in your region, the climate in your area (the ground might be frozen), the type of soil you will have to dig (soil might be too hard to dig using manual labor), and the number of graves you have to dig.
Some may decide to dig a trench grave since it’s easier to dig with a piece of machinery, while others will choose to go with individual graves. Regardless of which one you will choose, the grave should be at least 5 feet deep, and it’s recommended to keep 1.5 feet between the distance to avoid contamination. Never stack bodies on top of each other and have only one layer of bodies.
Some may think about cremating the body since it’s easier and much “cleaner”. However, there are a few things you must know and why, in my opinion, cremation is not recommended.
First, if you want to break down a body using heat, you need a great amount of heat to do a proper job. Unless you have access to a crematory, it will be impossible to burn down a body to its basic elements. You will most probably end up with a half-burned body that will still need to be buried. And second, if you burn the body, you will destroy pieces of evidence that could help a future identification. Cremation should be avoided in such scenarios.
This article may be too grim for some, and certain readers won’t have the stomach to go through all of it. However, we must understand that death is part of life, and it’s a reality that one day we will all face. Just like we prepare to withstand the challenges of life, we should also make preparation for situations when the absence of it will force us to take action.
Other Useful Resources: