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Harris County has cutting edge portable morgue unit

Monday, March 04, 2013

Harris County is unveiling a new high-tech tool to help with the grim task of identifying remains after a disaster. It's called a portable morgue unit.

It may seem morbid, but it's actually quite cutting edge. The Harris County portable morgue unit is the first of its kind in Texas. It would be used in the event of a mass casualty incident.

Typically, the contents would be set up inside a 53-foot trailer outfitted with victim identification equipment like DNA analysis, digital imaging, dental records and anthropology and pathology services. When empty, the trailer, which can be refrigerated, can hold up to 25 dead bodies.

Forensic anthropologist Jason Wiersema explained, "This would be used in a mass fatality event when our capability within the office is exceeded. In other words, we don't have the square footage to manage. Or if there's a sufficient number of decedents, and we can't manage that and our daily caseload. The other scenario in which this would be used is if there are contaminated remains, we don't want to bring it in the facility."

Another example is if the morgue needs to be on site and closer to an incident.

The entire unit cost is $462,000, paid for with federal grant money. It can be deployed to any of 13 counties in southeast Texas if a need arises.
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