Investigators using ‘rapid DNA testing’ to identify victims of Surfside tragedy

Pinellas County

LARGO, Fla. (WFLA) — As the search continues after the condominium collapse in Surfside. Forensic investigators are using rapid DNA testing to identify the victims pulled from the rubble.

The use of rapid DNA testing is studied at the national forensic science technology center in Largo, which was contacted to potentially help with the tragedy.

“There are a variety of forensic factors involved in this. The priority is identifying any individuals who are still in the structure, living or deceased. But also, the structure itself is potentially a scene,” said Dr. Max Houck, a Forensic Anthropologist with the National Forensic Science Technology Center.

Rapid DNA is now being used more at mass casualty scenes because it can provide a full DNA profile in under two hours, compared to traditional testing, which can take days or even weeks.

A cheek swab is collected and placed into a cartridge that is interested into the rapid DNA equipment, which analyzes it with testing and results be processed at the scene.

“You can get the results in under two hours, and also you can have several instruments where you could be running several samples at the same time,” said Rob O’Brien, with NFSTC.

According to O’Brien, buccal (cheek) swabs from family members can be processed while search and rescue efforts are underway, allowing for familial DNA searches of samples recovered from disaster victims.

For investigators, the goal is to provide closure as quick as possible for the loved ones helplessly waiting for answers.

“The longer it takes them to get an answer the more and more emotional toll on them it’s going to be,” said O’Brien.

All of the samples are sent to be confirmed in a lab. Families have to wait for lab results if rapid results are not conclusive.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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