Foot prints may be the new fingerprints for disaster victims, dementia sufferers


A push is underway toward a new method of identifying bodies after natural disasters and people with dementia who stray and cannot give their names.

The system uses data taken from scans of the soles of the feet in the same manner as fingerprints. Protected by shoes, victims’ feet are often more likely to be intact after a disaster than their fingers.

The move is led by former members of the Metropolitan Police Department, who argue that skin ridge patterns of the feet, which do not change over a lifetime, can function like fingerprints because they are unique to individuals.

Akira Mitsuzane, 68, former head of the MPD’s first investigation division that handles crimes including homicides and robberies, and Hideo Kaneko, 69, a former member of the MPD’s crime scene investigation division, came upon the idea of using feet patterns after the 2011 tsunami.

They witnessed multiple cases in which family members were given the wrong bodies. In a hurry to reunite victims with their relatives, police sometimes relied on clothing and body traits and this led to misidentification.

“It takes time and money to conduct DNA analysis and you can’t always obtain fingerprints. For the purpose of identification (of bodies) alone, foot ridge patterns have some more suitable characteristics,” Kaneko said.

Ridge patterns are usually taken from an area right under the toes that is often preserved in a disaster. The skin is thick and victims’ feet are usually protected by their shoes.

Mitsuzane believes people are more inclined to register their feet ridge patterns as opposed to fingerprints due to privacy concerns and the risk of leaks and unintended use of such information.

The system would require the registration and storage of ridge pattern data obtained from a scan of the sole of the foot.

A major electric appliance maker has developed a prototype portable scanner, acting on the request of Mitsuzane and others. It weighs around 20 kilograms and is capable of instantly scanning and storing data.

Metropolitan Police Department figures from 2014 show that officers fielded 10,783 reports of seniors with suspected dementia who had gone missing. Also, 75 bodies from the March 2011 disaster remained unidentified as of the end of February 2016.

“The use of foot ridge patterns can be an effective preparation for the future,” said Mitsuzane, adding that some 20,000 deaths are expected in the event of a major quake striking Tokyo, and that over 300,000 people could die if there is a major tremor in the Nankai Trough.

“The fact that many elderly people with dementia are under protective custody but unable to be identified is a serious issue as well,” Mitsuzane said.