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It all started at a hackathon organised by THE Port at CERN’s IdeaSquare in 2014.

The event combined technology and science to develop solutions to pressing humanitarian

challenges, and it was here that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

challenged participants to improve the current Funeral Body Bags design.

A deceased person’s body holds strong symbolism in various cultures, in relation to

funerary customs, as it is used as a direct representation of the individual. Its

absence, such as in disaster scenarios, may cause legal and sociocultural issues. This

absence also creates uncertainty regarding the life status of their absent close one.

Thus, the identification of bodies in forensic cases is considered extremely important in

providing closure. Consequently,

Mortuary Body Bags
play a vital role in early coordination stages of disaster

victim identification as it is a tool that allows for storage, isolation and

transportation of the body of a deceased person.

Since its inception, the standard body bag has been subject to minor

modifications and so far has limited adaptability in forensic contexts. Particularly in

unrefrigerated conditions, which is often the case in humanitarian settings. The request

to redesign the Cadaver Body Bags

came from the forensic unit of the ICRC, in order to improve the success rate of

victim identification in natural disasters and war. The multidisciplinary team of

individuals who met at CERN’s hackathon event has now expanded into an association with

a full-scale project. The initial design was supported by the ICRC who encouraged the

pursuit of the development of an improved prototype, working towards its industrial


The design is a new forensic technology that improves the current standard

body bag, while remaining affordable and functional, termed the Better Body Bag (BBB).

The primary goal of the Better Body Bag is to delay decomposition and improve visual

identification by influencing three key variables:

Firstly, the better Emergency Body Bags can hold a vacuum. The mechanism that is used limits the

body from interacting with an exterior environment, including oxygen, restricting aerobic

bacterial proliferation or insects. This vacuum is easily created with the help of a

standard hand pump that does not require electrical infrastructure.

Secondly, it controls the temperature inside the bag by having an

outer light-deflecting layer.

Thirdly, it controls bodily fluids associated with decomposition by

using a superabsorber pad, preventing any leaking in the rare event of a puncture.

Additionally, it aims to improve the working conditions of humanitarian

actors that manage the dead after catastrophes or armed conflicts. The bag has a closing

mechanism that provides a hermetic seal, barrier to gases, odours and organisms that can

emanate from inside the bag. An additional improvement of the BBB can be seen in its

practicality in forensic procedures by supporting the handling, documentation, and

identification of the deceased. A patented foil makes the bag 30% lighter than the

existing model. Furthermore, this design decreases the likelihood of ruptures and


Preliminary biological and load testing, undertaken by the forensic

department of the International Committee of the Red Cross who have been financially

supportive and to whom the first 100 prototype bags were provided, demonstrates that the

bag successfully held a vacuum and slowed decomposition. A peer-reviewed research study

is underway, in association with the Taphonomic Research in Anthropology: Centre for

Experimental Studies of the University of Central Lancashire, to verify results and

explore the full potential of the better body bag. The Taphonomic research will focus on

molecular as well as whole body preservation in the new Medical Body Bags using three time interval points

in two separate locations across two continents with differing temperature points (United

Kingdom and Thailand). A future blogpost from us will provide further details on the


Through this HIF-funded project, SSRa will now focus on industrial manufacturing of

the Better Body Bag, where the first 10,000 bags deployed in the field will be

specifically monitored by ICRC. Regular feedback and improvement circles will ensure

optimal performance and usability in the real deployment conditions.

We look forward to advancing in this project and sharing with you, in the form of

blog posts, the reflections we make along the way.