Alaska looking for portable morgue trailers

Sean DooganAlaska Dispatch News

The state of Alaska has issued a request for proposals in an effort to buy two portable trailers for storing human bodies. The morgue trailers would be based in Anchorage and used by the state medical examiner's office.

The request for proposal lists requirements for a winning bid. They include: the ability to store up to 28 cadavers each, in a temperature-controlled and refrigerated environment; easy-to-clean interiors; and a 16,000-pound carrying capacity.

The trailers would be used for mass casualty events, like natural disasters and plane crashes, according to the medical examiner's office. Ideally, they could also be loaded into military aircraft and flown to rural areas, if needed, according to the state.

"Small communities don't have the capacity to store or transport bodies," said Stephen Hoage, operations administrator for the medical examiner's office. "They could be taken to outlying areas to be used until (the medical examiner) can get them."

The trailers would be based at the medical examiner's offices in Anchorage. In addition to serving rural areas of Alaska, they would also be used as backup storage at the main office and lab in Anchorage. Hoage said the state's cadaver storage has been at or over capacity in the past.

According to Hoage, the most recent time the state ran out of room for bodies was in July of last year, when a plane crash at the Soldotna airport killed 10 people. Hoage said the state can typically store up to 28 bodies at the medical examiner's office, and that the crash pushed it over the limit. Hoage said that when the state's body storage gets too full, it sends cadavers to area funeral homes for temporary storage. The trailers would alleviate that problem, Hoage said.

While portable morgue trailers are fairly common across the U.S., the specifications and transportability of the two proposed trailers for Alaska would be unique.

"No other state has same has same logistical obstacles we have in Alaska," Hoage said.

Hoage said the proposal process is not yet finished, but that when a winning bidder is found the state expects to take delivery of the portable morgue trailers within the next six months.

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