Mobilizing your DNA Laboratory: Developing a Rapid DNA Response for Mass Identification Events

Wednesday November 2nd, 2022 // 11:15 am - 11:40 am // Woodrow Wilson Ballroom

Nothing taught the forensic DNA community, arguably the world, more about mass identification than the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. This singular event solidified DNA’s role in the identification of those who could not identify themselves. The use of DNA analysis in this, and other like events, has become a pivotal and expected tool in identifying victims when traditional identification methods like fingerprints, dental examination, or X-Ray are not viable.


In 2012, the first Rapid DNA instrument was released for commercial use. While there was, and still is, a hesitancy to implement this technology, both early and recent adopters can attest to the success of its use. One of the obvious advantages of this specialized technology is its mobilization capability, making it ideal for use at mass identification events. The 2018 deployment of Rapid systems to the Camp Fire in California led to the identification of 58 victims. More recently, Rapid DNA was used successfully by the Miami-Dade Police department in 2021 to identify victims of the Surfside condominium collapse.


In August of 2020 the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Biology Unit (FBU) went on- line with a Rapid DNA program. Their goals were three-fold: 1) incorporate this technology into their regular casework cadence; 2) establish a Rapid DNA infrastructure within their service area; and 3) develop a plan to mobilize this technology should a need arise.


In 2021 the FBU began discussions with Marshall University’s Forensic Science Center regarding the development of a mass identification guidance document specific to forensic biology laboratories. The goal of this collaboration was to develop a blueprint for the mobilization of Rapid DNA that could be adapted and used by any Forensic Biology Unit.


The purpose of this presentation is to highlight the importance of having a mass identification plan, outline the efforts that went into the FBU’s plan development, and discuss the execution of a mass identification exercise which was predicated on the discovery of a human trafficking event.


Julie Conover Sikorsky

Forensic Scientist Supervisor, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

Julie Conover Sikorsky is a Forensic Scientist Supervisor, a.k.a. Forensic Biology Unit Manager, at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in West Palm Beach, Florida. She has been employed by the PBSO for over twenty years, first as a Senior Forensic Scientist, then as the manager of the FBU. Julie is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and ABC certified in molecular biology.

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