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Fluvial Transport of Human Remains: Forensic Application of a HEC-RAS Model for Predicting Search Parameters for Human Remains Recovered from the Sacramento River, CA

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $866,896)

As submitted by the proposer:
The Sacramento River is California’s largest river, and claims dozens of lives each year due to drownings, boat accidents, and suicides; it is also a common body dump location for homicide victims. Rivers, like many fluvial systems, are responsible for the long distance transport of human remains away from their original point of entry into the water. There are currently no established protocols for predicting fluvial transport rates or search parameters for river victims in the U.S. waterways, which presents a significant challenge for law enforcement and search and rescue teams tasked with locating human remains. The primary goal of this project will be to develop a predictive fluvial transport model for locating human cadavers within the southern half of California's Sacramento River. This research will adapt an existing hydraulic model (Hydrologic Engineering Center's River Analysis System, HEC-RAS) to generate a predictive model of fluvial transport rates of victims who entered the river with known dates and locations under low, medium, and high flow rate conditions. The HEC-RAS model’s accuracy and precision will be tested and calibrated using two sets of data: historical river victim case data from northern California counties and rescue manikin simulations within the southern half of the Sacramento River. The results of research will be developed into a mobile and web application (SacRiverSearch) that will allow law enforcement and search and rescue teams to use ‘real time’ flow rate data to predict search areas for river victims. The model has the further potential of being reverse-engineered to predict where a discovered body from the river originated. The raw data from the rescue manikin simulations and the historical cases of river victims will be archived and also made available to researchers, law enforcement, and search and rescue teams. The results of this study will be disseminated to law enforcement and search and rescue personnel through training courses and workshops, to the scientific community through presentations at professional conferences, and to the public through various lecture series.
Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law.


Date Created: September 13, 2016