Interpol's operational response to the tsunami disaster

26 January 2005

Interpol and its member countries are still engaged in the biggest single operational response in the organization’s history, providing extensive co-ordination, logistics and communications support to authorities in Asian countries hit by the devastating tsunami on 26 December 2004.

On the morning of the tsunami, Interpol’s 24-hour-a-day Command and Co-ordination Centre (CCC) in Lyon, France, became aware of the disaster and immediately contacted the affected countries to offer assistance. Interpol also informed its network of national Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) teams of the situation and offered to co-ordinate efforts, part of a formal Interpol protocol established for such events.

In the aftermath of the disaster, Interpol dispatched an Incident Response Team (IRT) to Thailand to assess the situation and to begin co-ordination and data management efforts on the ground for the more than two dozen DVI teams that arrived. Secretary General Ronald K. Noble traveled to Thailand on 31 December 2004 to assess the situation first-hand. He made similar trips to Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia from 10-14 January 2005. Interpol IRTs were later sent to Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Interpol convened an emergency international meeting in Lyon on 5 January attended by 26 countries to discuss the co-ordination of international DVI efforts. Teams working in the disaster areas were already using the internationally accepted Interpol DVI protocol, which enables officials from all over the world to use the same criteria and compare data more efficiently.

As a direct result of the meeting, an international Crisis Support Group (CSG) was formed at the General Secretariat with start-up assistance from the United Kingdom. It consists of Interpol staff and officials from member countries who are assisting national authorities in managing the consequences of the disaster, notably the co-ordination and support of international DVI efforts.

At present, rotating teams of Interpol officers are working in Thailand. Their key function is to collect ante mortem and post mortem DVI information from national teams and input it into a central database for matching and subsequent identification. The teams also help to expedite the exchange of information between national liaison officers and the DVI teams there, and act as the first point of contact for Interpol countries affected by the tsunami disaster.

DVI teams have finished post-mortem efforts in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, and the data has been recorded.

It is expected that Interpol teams and international DVI teams from member countries will be rotated in Thailand for many months to come. International discussions are also under way in anticipation of the need for a central repository of unmatched data from affected countries in the coming months. This data would be held in a central database for future possible matching and identification.