Washington Report 082008

Date Published: 
Original Author: 
Robert M. Fells
Original Publication: 
ICCFA Magazine

Mass fatalities planning: Private sector, federal agencies meet in D.C.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently convened a workshop conference in Washington to discuss with private sector representatives in the death care industry various initiatives to ensure adequate planning for mass fatalities and community needs.
Discussions at this meeting, held June 13, focused on methods to alert other sectors to the need to coordinate and prioritize services, including transportation, energy, chemical, banking and financial, and communications, among other industries.
The ICCFA was represented by General Counsel Bob Fells; other organizations represented were the Cremation Association of North America, the National Funeral Directors Association, the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, the Casket and Funeral Supply Association and the Dodge Co.
The main focus of the planning sessions that the ICCFA has participated in over the past two years is how to protect operations in the 18 sectors that comprise the "critical infrastructure and key resources" (CIKR). There was a consensus among the group at the June 13 meeting that in the first 24 to 72 hours following a disaster, whether caused by a flu pandemic, natural catastrophe or terrorist attack, localities would be on their own to cope with the consequences and that federal agencies could not be viewed as the "cavalry" coming to the rescue.
Losses to the workforce are generally estimated at between 25 and 40 percent, either as casualties or as caregivers, and emergency business plans should be developed by all companies in order to remain operational for CIKR purposes. The group is currently drafting sector-specific issues and needs for distribution to sectors having an impact on mass fatalities management.

Pet cremations: A cautionary tale 

Funeral homes and cemeteries that may be considering pet cremations should be aware of a recent incident whereby the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) canceled a contract with a crematory because it also processed animal remains, though in a separate chamber.
According to The Washington Post, since 2001 DOD has cremated some remains of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in a Delaware crematory that also cremates pets.
An officer who traveled to the crematory to attend the cremation of a friend discovered signage that indicated pets were also cremated at the facility. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was quoted as saying that he found "the site and signage insensitive and entirely inappropriate for the dignified treatment of our fallen. ... The families of the fallen have the secretary's deepest apology."
Though no misconduct in the handling of the remains seems to have occurred, the government announced that it would "cease using the off-site crematory, use only crematory facilities that are co-located with licensed funeral homes, and have a military presence during the off-base process at the funeral home facilities."