Crime and Science Radio: When Disaster Hits: Naming The Dead: An Interview With NTSB’s Paul Sledzik

17 Apr

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How does forensic science help us in the aftermath of disasters such as plane crashes, floods, hurricanes and other events that result in mass fatalities?  We find some answers in this episode, when D.P. Lyle and Jan Burke interview Paul Sledzik.

In this episode, he tells us about historical responses to mass disasters, such as the General Slocum disaster of 1904, which caused the loss of over one thousand lives.  He’ll also talk to us about today’s processes for dealing with mass fatality events, the role of forensic scientists in processing mass fatality incidents, and the work done on these sites by forensic anthropologists and other specialists.

Near the end of the interview, we were also able to talk to him a little bit about his work on historical remains belonging to “New England Vampires.”

Bio: Trained as a forensic anthropologist, Paul Sledzik began his career at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC, as a museum technician. By the time he departed the museum in 2004, he had become a curator with responsibilities over the museum’s unique and historic anatomical and pathological collections. From 1998 to 2004, he served as the team commander for the Region 3 Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services. In the response to the events of September 11, 2001, he led the DMORT team in the identification of the victims from the crash of United flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Paul joined the National Transportation Safety Board’s Transportation Disaster Assistance Division in 2004 as a medicolegal specialist and in 2010 became the division director. The division coordinates access to information and services to support victim and family members impacted by aviation accidents and accidents in other transportation modes.

He has served as a consultant and advisor to federal and non-governmental agencies on issues of human identification and disaster response. A Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, his scientific articles have appeared in professional journals and textbooks. He has participated in the response to over 30 mass fatality events and transportation accidents.



National Transportation Safety Board

NTSB: Information for Families, Friends, and Survivors

NTSD: Family Assistance Operations: Planning and Policy

The National Museum of Health and Medicine

Federal Emergency Management Agency

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Public Health Emergency/DMORTs:

New story on study of preservation of DNA in mass disasters

The General Slocum Disaster, New York, June 15 1904 — over 1000 lives lost

General Slocum Disaster information at New York Public Library

“Sinking of the General Slocum” information at The Mariners Museum

General Slocum Disaster information at New York History.Info

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York, March 25, 1911 — over 140 lives lost

Documentary on YouTube 

History Channel site

Centennial program on NPR’s “All Things Considered” 

The Eastland Disaster, Chicago, July 24, 1915 — over 800 lives lost, including all members of 22 families

Eastland Disaster Historical Society description of the disaster

Montage of newspaper photographs of the event on YouTube

Eastland Disaster documentary on YouTube

“Brief communication: bioarcheological and biocultural evidence for the New England vampire folk belief.” (American Journal of Physical Anthropology)

The Great New England Vampire Panic



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