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Volunteering: How You Can Help

It is important for volunteers to understand how private sector volunteers function during a disaster. A disaster is a local event. Local volunteer networks are used before calling on volunteers outside of local networks.

Private-sector volunteers are more likely to participate in a response if they are registered with a local organization or association. Dentists registered with local registries will be called on when local and regional resources are exhausted.

  • Volunteering: Pre-Deployment Considerations    
  • The Dentist’s Role in Forensic Identification: The Release of Dental Records & Radiographs, and Denture Labeling
  • From the Front Lines: Correspondence from a DMORT Volunteer

Related Resource: Volunteering

Volunteering: Pre-Deployment Considerations

If you participate in a volunteer organization, you may be asked to volunteer for on-site disaster relief duties. Although everyone wants to do their part to assist, you must evaluate your situation and determine where you can be the most useful in the relief process.

Deploying to an area following a disaster, with limited resources and certain physical hardships, may not be appropriate for everyone. Consider the following before agreeing to an assignment. If your position requires mandatory emergency duty, but you are faced with any of these issues and are unable to resolve them, discuss the issues with your supervisor before making the decision to leave.

  • Can you make safe, dependable, temporary arrangements for your children or adult dependents?    
  • Will these arrangements be easily extended if you are unable to return when expected?    
  • Have you made arrangements for your pets' care?    
  • Do you have a chronic medical condition that would prohibit your participation (i.e. significant mobility concerns or heart condition)?    
  • Do you have a medical condition that may exacerbate and make the anticipated conditions harmful for you (i.e. asthma, diabetes)?    
  • Do you have a psychological condition that may prohibit your participation (i.e. anxiety disorder)?    
  • Have you had a recent emotional or psychological event that would make you unable to participate effectively in disaster efforts at this time?    
  • Do you have any other concerns that would make you unable to participate effectively in disaster efforts at this time?    
  • Do you have any other concerns about taking an assignment?

Remember, if you are unable to assist at the site, you still can assist with relief efforts in many ways. You can participate with organizational activities locally or assure your department continues to function while others are reassigned. You can be most helpful by assessing your strengths and limitations, and working up to your capacity.

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The Dentist’s Role in Forensic Identification: The Release of Dental Records & Radiographs, and Denture Labeling

A dental practice may be contacted by law enforcement officers or federal agency representatives who are operating on instruction from a medical examiner/coroner's office, law enforcement or an emergency management agency following a mass disaster or in a case involving an unidentified body or remains. Investigators' initial job is to quickly collect dental records to aid in victim identification. Dental records and radiographs are generally sought in cases when conventional identification such as visual or by fingerprint is not possible. This document outlines helpful information about the dentist's role in these situations.

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From the Front Lines: Correspondence from a DMORT Volunteer

Please Note: Dr. James Wood is a member of the DMORT team deployed to work on identification of the dead in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Did I tell you about the alligator? Of course not, I just found out about it a few minutes ago. Apparently there is a small pond near here—about half a mile down the road and our caterers are feeding a 4-foot alligator some of our leftovers. He'll have a hard time getting through security though since he doesn't have an ID badge so I guess we are safe.

Life in our camp is a bit more hectic everyday. There are now over 200 people here from DMORT—if you want to know more about DMORT go to www.dmort.org. There are 24 dentists and we are having 4 leave tomorrow with no replacements really soon so we will be working a bit harder—not sure how we will staff our stations. We have heard that over 60 dentists have been involved both here and in Gulfport—out of a pool of 180. We have been told to expect a return visit in 4-6 weeks. We have examined over 250 here at the morgue and have really kept up with the flow of remains coming from the New Orleans area. The number dead will likely be far less than expected—my uneducated guess is 1000 or less.

We work basically during the day. Our day starts around 6am with breakfast, followed by a briefing and then off to a section meeting for the dentists before we go into the morgue around 7:30am. It is hot in the Tyvek body suits we have to wear. We tape our gloves to the suits to keep clean and then wear another set of gloves on the outside. We have to have our BP, temp, etc, taken morning and night so they can keep up with our health status. We work until about 6pm—cleanup eat and hang out for a few hours before retiring to our cozy 25 bed (cot) room. I was surprised to find I was one of the last to wake up this morning—not sure how 20 people got up and got dressed without waking me up. The food continues to be good—last night we had a treat—someone found a 5-gallon container of chocolate ice cream in town. It is amazing how quickly you fall into a routine around camp...though not a routine I would like to continue for more than my tour calls for this time.

Our completely digital operation continues to work flawlessly—what a great technological step for us. We did a case today (in a team of 3) where we took full mouth X-rays and charted the mouth in less than 10 minutes. Not all can be done that fast—a lot depends on the condition of the remains, but when things work well, they work really well.

Probably the most disturbing part of all of this for me personally is the number of elderly people who we have seen, and even worse, those from hospitals. Why those patients were not evacuated early into the process is beyond me.

On Saturday I went down to New Orleans as part of a Recovery team. I got to see some of the devastation first hand. We gathered at the Convention Center—you wouldn't recognize it from when the ADA was last there. It looked like a war zone. We didn't get into any of the areas under water, but that which was above was pretty well messed up. Some areas didn't look too bad though. The damage seems to have been concentrated in certain areas. The French Quarter looked pretty good for the most part. It was strange seeing New Orleans with so few people. It was also strange being a part of a convoy that didn't obey stop signs, etc. On the way back I got a call from my buddy who was part of my speaking team for Sessions. They patched me into the lecture and I gave a brief update. For any who heard it, if I sounded disjointed consider that we were driving back from New Orleans (I was actually driving and talking) dodging traffic at about 70mph.

Second Correspondence

The size of the camp here in St. Gabriel continues to grow. There are now 205 people from DMORT here ( of about 1250 nationwide) of course that doesn't count the number in Mississippi. We also have another 150 support personnel here as well. There are 27 dentists here. Our "tours of duty" are 2 weeks each.

The latest arrival from California is Dr. Steve Lojeski—the current President of the San Gabriel Dental Society—a very good addition to our team here. He also works with the LA County Coroner's Office—so he knows his stuff.

This disaster is unique as all are, however, no one who has been around for a while can remember anything even close. The remains we are seeing are complete bodies. Most of the disasters we get involved with involve some or severe fragmentation—none of that here. Many of the victims are frail and elderly people who either chose to not be evacuated or could not be evacuated for medical reasons. It is hard to see this and not think of a grandparent or an older parent.

The weather continues hot and humid, although our sleeping quarters are air conditioned - at least somewhat. Yesterday we had a bout 95 degrees here with 60+ percent humidity - quite a difference from most areas of California. Dormitory living at it's most primitive, snoring of all kinds and all volumes. We continue to fight ants and annoying flying insects of a large variety that even the entomologists prefer to just call "bugs." Showers are available as is laundry service. After you shower and dress you continue to sweat for a while. Colder showers seems to help with that somewhat. Really don't know how people live with this year in and year out. Even the locals complain.

The number of victims seems to steadily increase at the rate of about 50 per day. Many areas of the city are still underwater—although you all probably have better news out there than we do here. My personal guess is that there will probably be somewhere near 1000 dead in the New Orleans area when all is said and done—but that is only a guess. At any rate the 10,000 number is way way off.

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Thank you to the Florida Dental Association and Florida Dental Health Foundation for providing significant contributions to this content, which were funded in part from the American Dental Association Foundation.