Mass Fatality Planning

Preparing for mass fatality events requires local, state and federal agencies to participate and collaborate at all levels within and among various agencies and organizations. VDH’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) has developed guidelines to assist localities in planning for mass fatality events.

Mass fatalities fall into two main categories: (1) unnatural causes, such as catastrophic events of nature (hurricane, flood, earthquake, tsunami), bioterrorism (use of agents such as anthrax, smallpox, Ebola) and terrorist attacks (World Trade Center, arson-related forest fires), and (2) natural causes such as natural disease processes (pandemic influenza or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The management and disposition of all unnatural deaths come under the primary jurisdiction of VDH’s Chief Medical Examiner. The management of natural deaths resulting from natural disease processes is the primary responsibility of the locality in which they occur, with the OCME providing information and guidance.

For information on mass fatality events in Virginia, the Guidelines for Managing Mass Fatality Events presents an overview of the OCME’s role with an all-hazards approach, describing how and when a locality should report deaths to a medical examiner and how a locality should manage human remains during a mass fatality event.

To learn more about the OCME’s involvement with natural death events, including pandemic flu, please review the Powerpoint presentation OCME: Flu Issues. It covers which natural deaths are the OCME’s jurisdiction, our mission, our role in protecting the public’s health and our collaborations with partners. The presentation also includes basic information for localities on the management of human remains during a mass fatality event due to natural disease.


Medical Examiner District Offices:

  • Central District: (804) 786-3174
  • Northern District: (703) 530-2600
  • Tidewater District: (757) 683-8366
  • Western District: (540) 561-6615