Ground zero efforts challenge U workers

Liz Kohman

When Dan Rose saw ground zero of the World Trade Center firsthand, the reality of the terrorist act and the extent of the damage in New York struck him.

“This was a significant act of terror,” said the School of Dentistry faculty member. “Someone should be held accountable.”

Rose went to New York as a member of the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, a national group of professionals certified by the federal government and trained to help clean up after disasters. He spent two weeks in New York working 12 hours to 15 hours each day.

Rose, who is director of extramural activities in the dental school, said he doesn’t think people realize the extent of the damage in New York.

“This is big stuff,” Rose said. “This is truly an act of war.”

Rose said although some people don’t understand why the disaster area was blocked off, the measure was necessary to the investigation.

“This is a crime scene, not a tourist attraction,” Rose said.

Rose was placed on alert – meaning he had to have his bags packed and be ready to leave on two hours’ notice – at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 11. But he wasn’t called into action until Sept. 24.

And he wasn’t afraid of getting on an airplane.

“It’s one of the safest times to travel,” Rose said.

Once in New York, he worked to identify victims with DMORT through a variety of activities.

Dental identification can be a grueling process. Rose said the most difficult part of the task is obtaining all of the information.

“I think sometimes people romanticize it,” Rose said. He said the team was there to do as much work as they could until the next group came to take over.

He called family members to ask for medical records. DMORT members then entered data from dental records into a computer program that matches information gathered from the disaster area. Then members examine the possible matches from the computer program and work to identify victims.

Dental identification can be as accurate as fingerprint identification, Rose said. In general, approximately one-third of disaster victims can be identified using dental records, he said.

DMORT focuses on many
different methods of victim identification and is comprised of forensic pathologists, medical examiners, odontologists, anthropologists, funeral directors and fingerprint experts.

Prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, the team was called into action to help in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Most DMORT members are private citizens, but they become federal employees and are paid by the federal government when they are dispatched to the disaster area, said Craig Stevens, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Approximately 500 people traveled to New York to help with victim identification through DMORT, Stevens said, but the operation is winding down – only one-third of the original number of disaster workers remain in New York.

One of DMORT’s goals is to help train local people to work with identification, Rose said.

Rose became involved in forensic consulting because he wanted to bring perpetrators to justice, especially in child abuse cases.

He said many crimes can be solved by comparing dental records to bite marks on victims or food left at a crime scene.

Although he likes helping capture criminals, Rose also gets personal satisfaction from helping identify disaster victims.

“To bring closure to families is a good feeling,” Rose said.