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Survey of Emergency Management Professionals to Assess Ideal Characteristics of a Photographic-Based Family Reunification Tool

  • Sarita Chung, Stephen Monteiro, Sonja I. Ziniel, Leslie A. Kalish, Paula Klaman and Michael Shannon...


Objective: A reunification tool that captures images of children at the time of the disaster would enable parents to locate their missing children, particularly if the children are unable to communicate their identity. This study assessed the ideal features and parameters of a photographic-based reunification tool.

Methods: A convenience sample of federal, state, and hospital-based emergency management professionals were surveyed to elicit their preferences regarding an image-based reunification algorithm, to assess the parents' level of difficulty in viewing images with facial trauma, and to determine the minimum percentage of successful reunifications needed to justify adoption of a reunification tool.

Results: Of 322 emergency management professionals surveyed, 129 (40%) responded. Only 18% favored a photographic-based tool that would display images in which only the categories of age, gender, and facial features (eye, hair, and skin color) would exactly match the parent's description of the child. However, 72% preferred a broader, less-rigid system in which the images displayed would match all or most features in the parents’ description of the missing child, allowing parents to view more of the image database. Most (85%) preferred a tool showing unedited images of living children, allowing parents to view facial trauma. However, more respondents reported that parents would find viewing unedited images with facial trauma somewhat or very difficult emotionally compared with edited images for both living (77% vs 20%, P <. 001) and deceased children (91% vs 70%, P <. 001.) In a disaster involving 1000 children, a tool that reunites a minimum of 10% of families would be adopted by over 50% of the participants. Participants were willing to accept a lower percentage of reunifications in a disaster involving 1000 children compared with disasters involving 10 (P <. 001) or 100 children. (P <. 001).

Conclusions: Emergency management professionals identified desirable characteristics of a photographic-based reunification tool, including an algorithm displaying unedited photographs of missing children that loosely matches the parents' description, acknowledging the parents' emotional difficulty in viewing photographs with facial trauma. Participants were also willing to accept a lower percentage of successful reunifications as the scale of the disaster size increased.

(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2012;6:156–162)


Corresponding author

Correspondence: S. arita Chung, MD, Division of Emergency Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, Boston, MA 02115 (e-mail:


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Survey of Emergency Management Professionals to Assess Ideal Characteristics of a Photographic-Based Family Reunification Tool

  • Sarita Chung, Stephen Monteiro, Sonja I. Ziniel, Leslie A. Kalish, Paula Klaman and Michael Shannon...


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