DENVER (KDVR) — New technology is coming to Colorado that will help identify victims in mass causality incidents quicker.
Denver’s Office of the Medical Examiner received a federal grant to pay for rapid DNA processors. Only a handful of coroner’s offices in the country have the cutting-edge technology and soon Denver will be one of them.
The machines significantly speed up the process of identifying those who have passed away, giving families closure quicker.
Three rapid DNA processors will soon be in the Denver lab thanks to a $386,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
Ian Harwick, the decedent affairs coordinator at Denver’s office, was a writer for the grant and said the machines are needed in Colorado for emergency preparedness.
“This is really a game-changer in terms of how quickly we’ll be able to get results,” Harwick said. “If something were to happen in the region tomorrow, we would have to call in outside resources to come in and provide their technology or we’d be working with an already backlogged Denver Police Department’s crime lab.”
Rapid DNA technology gives results in under 2 hours
The rapid technology uses the DNA of a victim and possible family members to identify who the deceased person is. The machines produce results in fewer than two hours compared to months at an outside facility.
The rapid DNA processors cut down on the lag time during tragedy. They are often used in mass casualty incidents, like last year’s condominium collapse in Florida that killed 98 people and the 2018 Camp Fire in California that killed 85 people.
“It’s not just a mass shooting,” Harwick said. “It could be the fire danger that a lot of the foothills are now living in.”
Colorado saw both in recent history with the mass shooting at King Soopers in Boulder and the Marshall Fire last year. Harwick said it can also help in flooding, plane crashes and more. He added that their hope is to use the technology to identify those who have died and are still unidentified.
“I hope that we are really able to give some people some closure,” Harwick said. It’s really important to me to be able to do this. I see how many people lose contact with their families and it just makes me sad.”
According to the office, there are 17 people who remain unidentified in Denver. There are still a few steps the office needs to take, but they’re hoping to have these machines up and running by the end of the year or early next year.