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Mass Fatality Preparedness in the Death Care Sector

Gershon, Robyn R.M. DrPH, MHS; Magda, Lori A. MA; Riley, Halley E.M. BA; Merrill, Jacqueline A. DNSc, MPH, RN

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: October 2011 - Volume 53 - Issue 10 - p 1179–1186
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31822cfe76
Original Articles

Objective: To characterize mass fatality preparedness of the death care sector (ie, funeral industry organizations) and to determine the workforce's ability and willingness to report to duty during a hypothetical high fatality pandemic event.

Methods: Anonymous, Web-based, cross-sectional survey of a national funeral industry sample. Preparedness was characterized using descriptive statistics. Factors significantly associated with ability and willingness were identified using chi-squared bivariate analysis.

Results: Respondents (N = 492) generally rated their organizational preparedness planning as suboptimal; only six of thirteen preparedness checklist items were typically in place. In contrast, response intentions were uniformly high; more than 80% of the respondents were willing to report to work, although high prevalence of secondary obligations might hinder this.

Conclusions: Preparedness strategies that address interorganizational, surge capacity, and personal emergency planning are likely to be most efficacious.

Statement of Clinical Significance: Occupational medicine plays an important role in emergency preparedness and response. Funeral industry organizations could benefit from skills and resources of occupational medicine, including training, fit testing, development of plans, and coordination and hosting of planning exercises.

From the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies (Dr Gershon), School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, Calif; the Mailman School of Public Health (Ms Magda and Ms Riley) and Department of Biomedical Informatics (Dr Merrill), Columbia University, New York, NY.

Address correspondence to: Robyn R.M. Gershon, MHS, DrPH, Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, 3333 California Street, Suite 265, San Francisco, CA 94118. E-mail:

This work was supported by grants from the International Conference of the Funeral Service Examining Boards (ICFSEB CU08-9304), the Funeral Service Foundation (FSF CU08-8691), and the New York State Tribute Foundation (NYSTF CU09-1650). The contents of this article are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Funeral Service Examining Boards, the Funeral Service Foundation, or the New York State Tribute Foundation.

©2011The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine