'A life in Death’
: A grounded theory exploratory study investigating the realities and factors that impact and aid individual wellbeing of those who volunteer in a UK Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) role

  • Natalie Gorton

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) is a specific type of investigation that ensues after a Mass Fatality Incident (MFI). It involves a multi-disciplinary team which are deployed with the aim of collecting and identifying victims and returning them (their remains) to their families. The research literature pertaining to this area is somewhat limited, being at best ‘emergent’ and at worst ‘neglected’. This study aims to contribute to the identification and understanding of the factors which most affect the wellbeing of those who work in DVI and how they manage these factors. The present research adopts an exploratory constructionist grounded theory approach, in order to provide a rich depth of understanding. Twenty-five semi-structured interviews were conducted with a broad cross-section of individuals either active or retired from DVI work, all of whom had (or had had) a variety of different roles. The findings highlight sixteen different themes including; the motivations for ‘doing the job’, the different personal rewards that working in DVI brings, the true nature of deployment, The self-awareness that these individuals demonstrate about the effects of DVI on their own psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing, the common coping strategies which they use to be able to continue doing the role, the support networks they draw form to carry-out the job and the form and appropriateness of the organisational support those working in DVI roles receive, are also considered. The findings highlight a distinct lack of general awareness of DVI and what those involved actually do and the pressures they endure. A model of DVI wellbeing is then proposed taking inspiration from Bronfenbrenner (1994) socio-ecological model to highlight the protective and risk factors to DVI wellbeing. The findings are discussed with relation to the literature. The researcher’s reflexivity is also detailed. Finally, a discussion of the implications of the findings in terms of DVI staff wellbeing and practice is presented, and suggestions and recommendations for further practice and research are made.
Date of Award13 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJason Roach (Main Supervisor) & Ashley Cartwright (Co-Supervisor)

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