Planning for natural disasters is a challenging process. Extensive planning is essential to support the prevention and effective response, as well as dealing with aftermath. All three areas deserve careful planning and together work to minimise casualties, damage and trauma. Japan sits
in a high-risk zone for earthquakes and related disasters such as tsunami. Therefore, many steps need to be taken in order to mitigate the effects of strong earthquakes. Many buildings are built to withstand the effects, early warning systems exist nationwide and communities are trained in
how to respond. However, more work still needs to be done on the post-disaster preparations. Japan is now densely populated and, unfortunately, this means the number of victims from a new earthquake has the potential to be high. One practical complication of this is how to quickly and accurately
identify victims in this situation. There are many ways to potentially identify a casualty of disaster. The preferred method still remains identification through some physical aspect or through belongings found with the person. However, in many cases, the victim will have suffered significant
trauma and be without any distinguishing belongings. In these cases, DNA testing and fingerprint analysis are available however, dental records are often a go-to in these scenarios. All three of these methods require an extensive database of records from which to compare, however, only one
already possesses significant information. Most people are not DNA tested nor have they had their fingerprints taken for official record. However, most people have been to the dentist and had their dental records taken. These vary in detail, but most have at least a verbal account of the inside
of their mouth. Dental records are, indeed, used extensively in casualty identification. However, the process is long and requires the manual sifting of these records by dentists and helpers. In the context of a major disaster, this process is no doubt slowed by the psychological trauma experienced
by the identifiers. In addition, verbal dental records can match multiple people and mix-ups can occur. Dr Hideyuki Takano, based at the University of Tokushima in Japan, is working towards digitising the dental record.
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