RFID chips used to track dead after Katrina

Relief workers are tagging human cadavers in Mississippi to help coroner identify victims.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
Disaster relief crews are adopting radio frequency tags to help them identify victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The U.S. Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) and health officials in Mississippi's Harrison County are implanting human cadavers with RFID chips from VeriChip in an effort to speed up the process of identifying victims and providing information to families, VeriChip said Friday. In addition, the County Medical Examiner's office in Lafayette County, Miss., said it will stock RFID chips and scanners for future disaster relief. Louisiana is also expected to begin using the system soon, which should help officials cope with the estimated 500 unidentified bodies in the state.

VeriChip has been marketing the human RFID systems, which have attracted much controversy, over the past two years. Advocates say that implanting chips into humans will one day help doctors and emergency medical personnel rapidly access an individual's medical history or identify them. The idea for the technology came when an employee of Applied Digital, VeriChip's parent company, watched emergency crews on TV trying to identify victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

RFID bracelets have also been adopted in prisons and jails to reduce inmate violence.

Opponents, however, contend that embedding RFID chips into people will erode civil liberties and privacy. Several Christian groups also object, asserting the chips violate their beliefs.

Adopting RFID for disaster recovery in this manner improves record keeping, VeriChip said. When relief workers find an unidentified body, they insert a chip and enter information about the location, physical condition and characteristics of the body. Some also take digital photographs. The data is then cross-checked against a database, being compiled, that contains information from families about missing persons in that area.

Cross-checking the data will ideally enable workers and families to identify victims more rapidly. The RFID tags will allow relief workers to identify and find the body again.

"While difficult to think about, such technologies will greatly assist in the disaster recovery efforts by speeding the process of cadaver processing, reducing error and facilitating the reunification of the deceased with their loved ones," VeriChip said.