The effectiveness of response and recovery efforts is greatly enhanced by the establishment of victim assistance protocols in advance of an event of mass violence or terrorism. Review your community’s existing emergency plan to understand mandated roles and responsibilities, and determine which victim assistance protocols you need to develop. Victim assistance protocols must be adaptable to meet unforeseen, unmet, and evolving needs during the response and recovery phases. (Note: Victim services should be included in all aspects of planning.)
This section highlights the steps to take and special considerations to keep in mind to ensure that your community has the necessary victim assistance protocols in place:
These steps are described in much greater detail in the Partnerships & Planning Checklist, which can be used as is (PDF) or tailored to fit your community’s needs (Word).
Review local, state, and federal crisis response plans and current Incident Command System (ICS) protocols to understand which victim assistance response protocols, if any, are included in the existing crisis plans. It is essential that emergency management coordinates with system and non-system victim service agencies in establishing a response protocol.
A contact list is critical for collecting, maintaining, and tracking contact information, resources, and roles and responsibilities for victim assistance planning committee members.
Developing a meeting protocol will ensure that committee meetings are strategic and inclusive and will help ensure timely and effective responses if an event were to occur.
Victim service providers, victim advocates, and state VOCA administrators should be included in city, state, and regional emergency preparedness and in ICS drills and exercises when they occur.
The ICS provides a unified command in a multi-responder emergency in which all agencies have a jurisdictional responsibility for the crisis response.
During and after an event of mass violence or terrorism, the Joint Information Center will provide official information through various media (radio, TV, Web), in multilingual and multicultural formats, and, if appropriate, through alternative sources (e.g., phone texts, social media, online apps).
A well-organized Family Assistance Center (FAC) is critical to supporting victims and their families. FACs allow victims streamlined access to multiple partner agencies, resources, and information. They may provide referrals to local and regional services for mental health counseling; health care and childcare; crime victim compensation; and assistance with legal matters, travel, creditors, work-related issues, financial planning, insurance benefits, IRS/tax policies, social security/disability, FEMA, and so forth. FACs should have a physical location and a Web site for online access.
A process needs to be developed for identifying and verifying victims and family members in coordination with the medical examiner or coroner; managing information about missing persons; releasing personal effects (cleaning and return of personal effects); and assigning case managers to provide services to victims and their families (including hospitalized victims and those who are not present).
A team with training in notifying family members needs to be identified to coordinate with law enforcement and faith leaders in providing information on fatalities, injuries, recovery, temporary identification, missing persons, and the release and disposition of personal effects.
After an event, community leaders will need to identify, review, and apply for direct financial assistance for individual victims, family members, local entities (businesses and organizations), and city, county, and state jurisdictions to meet victims’ needs during recovery.
A process needs to be developed for training volunteers in advance of an event and for supervising, assigning, and assisting them during the response and recovery phases. Spontaneous volunteers should also be addressed.
Donation management is a complex process that can be managed effectively if planned for in advance of an event. Donation management and disbursement can be one of the most challenging aspects of response and recovery. Not everyone in the community will agree on the final donation management strategy, and you must keep the entire community’s needs in mind. Be aware that there may be a perceived inequity of compensation between victims of mass violence and terrorism and victims of other types of crimes.
As the case moves through the criminal justice system, victims and family members will need help with the return of personal effects, victim impact statements, media management, support during trials (e.g., financial assistance, housing, transportation), and access to ongoing notifications regarding the investigation and matters involving prosecution, adjudication, sentencing, and prisoner status.
The FAC will typically transition into a Community Resiliency Center (CRC) that will continue to provide ongoing services and assistance to victims, family members, first responders, and community members. The FAC may transition to a CRC within 1 week or up to 3 or more months after the event, depending on the nature and scope of the event.
Donation management can be one of the most complex and challenging aspects of the response and recovery. Therefore, planning and preparation for the management of donations is essential. During the planning phase, consider the following key questions regarding your donation management strategy:
Several examples of donation management strategies follow:
The One Fund and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund use the Feinberg Model, which was developed by an attorney who specializes in mediation and who has been involved in helping to determine how much money is distributed to victims from various funds.
Offering victim liaisons to victims and family members helps to minimize the trauma that can be associated with the overwhelming onslaught of resources and demands placed on victims.
The following are examples of program models to address this issue. Please note: the brief overviews of each of these models serve only as examples, not proven best practices. It is important to remember that whenever a victim liaison model is implemented, state/community leaders should ensure that victim liaisons receive the necessary training and support to meet the comprehensive and short- and long-term needs of victims and family members. (See also the Sample Victim Liaison Job Description in this toolkit.)
Family Liaison Program (Aurora, Colorado):
CT State Trooper Family Support Liaison (Newtown, Connecticut):
9/11 Companions (New York City area):
Sikh Temple Shooting (Oak Creek, Wisconsin):
Navigators (Boston, Massachusetts):
Safe Haven Model (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Denver, Colorado):
To ensure timely and effective responses to victims, survivors, and first responders, consider amending existing statutes to address funding or service gaps (e.g., catastrophic injury, information sharing). Research and review federal and state statutes and policies to understand existing mandated procedures, roles, and responsibilities:
After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Congress amended the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), authorizing OVC to set aside up to $50 million annually from the Crime Victims Fund for an Antiterrorism Emergency Reserve (Emergency Reserve).
Through the Emergency Reserve, OVC manages the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program (AEAP), which offers funding to provide timely relief for immediate and ongoing victim assistance services in the form of grants and other funding instruments to qualifying applicants (including state victim assistance and compensation programs); U.S. Attorneys’ Offices; federal, state, tribal, and local governments; and nongovernmental victim service organizations. AEAP provides federal funds to support crisis response, consequence management, criminal justice support, crime victim compensation, and training and technical assistance in the aftermath of an incident. (Please note: Individuals and foreign governments are not eligible to apply for and receive AEAP funding.)
The term "mass violence" is not defined in VOCA or any statutes amending VOCA, nor is it defined in the U.S. Criminal Code; however, OVC defines mass violence as “an intentional violent criminal act, for which a formal investigation has been opened by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or other law enforcement agency, that results in physical, emotional, or psychological injury to a sufficiently large number of people to significantly increase the burden of victim assistance and compensation for the responding jurisdiction as determined by the OVC Director.”
In the guidelines for OVC’s Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program, terrorism occurring within the United States is defined as “activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, (B) appear to be intended(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States” [18 U.S.C. § 2331, as amended].