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State panel approves NYC's use of 'Rapid DNA' technology in disaster situations 

The high-speed Rapid DNA device was used to

The high-speed Rapid DNA device was used to identify victims of the Paradise fire in California and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Photo Credit: ANDE

A state commission Friday approved New York City’s use of a new so-called “Rapid DNA” technology to help more quickly identify victims in a mass casualty situation such as a terrorist attack or other disaster, officials said.

The Commission on Forensic Science, which has oversight over all public crime laboratories and medical examiners offices in the state, gave the nod to the city Office of Chief Medical Examiner to use the new system during a meeting in Manhattan, said a spokeswoman for the Division of Criminal Justice Services.

As reported last month, the new quick DNA testing is done by a portable device made by ANDE, a Colorado-based technology company. It was used in 2018 to identify victims of the Paradise wildfire in California and in 2017 after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, officials said.

The 117-pound device, which can fit in the back of an SUV, tests DNA from saliva of relatives of the deceased and develops genetic profiles in about two hours, officials said. Those profiles are then compared with those of the victims. 

At an earlier meeting of state officials last month, a representative of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported that the device can produce reliable DNA samples quickly at special family centers set up after disasters.

“We want to provide information to families so they are not wandering from hospital to hospital," Mark Desire, assistant director for forensic biology of the OCME, told the officials last month.

 Using traditional DNA testing, its sometimes can take weeks or months for genetic profiles to be generated, officials noted.

 A representative of the OCME didn’t immediately return a request for comment Friday. 

Rapid DNA has emerged as a recent development in forensic science, although experts have said that its use in criminal cases to identify possible defendants, particularly in sexual assault prosecutions, is still under review.

The state commission’s ruling only pertains to New York City for mass disasters. Use of the rapid system in criminal cases is still something the commission said requires validation studies before it is cleared for such a purpose.

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