Office for Victims of Crime - Justice for Victims. Justice for All
Justice for Victims. Justice for All
Helping Victims of Mass Violence & Terrorism: Planning, Response, Recovery, and Resources

Partnerships & Planning


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 Existing Plans and Protocols

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.

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Develop Victim Assistance Protocols

Ensure that you have the following victim assistance protocols in place in advance of an incident.

Contact List Protocol

A contact list is critical for collecting, maintaining, and tracking contact information, resources, and roles and responsibilities for victim assistance planning committee members.

Committee Meeting Protocol

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.

Practice Drills and Exercises Protocol

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.

Incident Command System Protocol

The ICS provides a unified command in a multi-responder emergency in which all agencies have a jurisdictional responsibility for the crisis response.

Communications Protocol

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).

Family Assistance Center Protocol

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.

Victim Identification Protocol

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).

Notification Protocol (missing persons, tentative notifications, and death notifications)

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.

Planning and Preparedness Grants and Emergency Funding Assistance Protocol

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.

Volunteer Management Protocol

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 Protocol (Funds, Goods, and Services)

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.

Criminal Justice System: Victim Support Protocol

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.

Community Resiliency Protocol

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.

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Special Considerations

Donation Management

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:

  • Who has the authority to collect and disburse donated funds in your community?
  • Which community agencies, including victim service providers, will you include in an advisory group to assist in the development of a donation management strategy?
  • How will victims be involved in developing the donation management strategy?
  • How will you plan to allocate the funding for victims and the greater community?
  • Is there an existing donation database that could be used to collect, track, disburse, and acknowledge monetary donations?
  • Is there an existing communications plan (which includes social media strategies) for donation collection? How do you plan to communicate to the public how the funds will be allocated?
  • How will the primary agencies address any dissatisfaction or disagreement regarding how the funds will be allocated? What are potential strategies for addressing conflict—meeting with victims (prior to announcing to the press), press release/conference, and so forth?

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.

Victim Liaison Models

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):

  • State emergency public information center assigned a public information officer (PIO) to each family to help the families manage media requests.
  • The PIOs coordinated/collaborated with the victim advocates.
  • PIOs now receive training in victim advocacy/trauma—lessons learned from the mass shooting at the theater.

CT State Trooper Family Support Liaison (Newtown, Connecticut):

  • A trooper was assigned to each family to provide them with information and support. Troopers accompanied them on errands, to church, and at home.
  • Law enforcement officers shielded families from the media and kept media vehicles away from families’ homes.
  • State trooper support continued for several weeks after the incident. Local victim service providers addressed the ongoing and long-term needs of families.

9/11 Companions (New York City area):

  • The FAC assigned a crisis responder/advocate to each family. The advocate walked them through the FAC and accompanied them to the World Trade Center site.
  • Crisis responders were on rotation at the FAC and supported families through the FAC for approximately 3 months.

Sikh Temple Shooting (Oak Creek, Wisconsin):

  • VOCA administrators and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office for Victim Assistance set up a FAC at the temple to reach families and to provide language and culturally appropriate victim services/resources.
  • A Sikh mental health specialist from Colorado traveled to Oak Creek to provide support to families.
  • The FAC did not allow media in the temple.

Navigators (Boston, Massachusetts):

  • The Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance (MOVA) assigned Navigators to each family.
  • The CRC and Navigators were onsite at MOVA.

Safe Haven Model (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Denver, Colorado):

  • The program opened during jury selection and lasted through the entire trial and sentencing process.
  • A criminal justice victim support model was the foundation for this program.
  • Note: This model is adaptable. Aurora, Colorado, has adopted this model during the pretrial phases and will continue to use the model if the case goes to trial.

Existing Statutes/Policies

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:

  • The Federal Crime Victims' Rights Act of 2004.
  • State constitutional amendments, victims' rights statutes, court rules, administrative code, and administrative enabling statutes, which vary by state.
  • State VOCA compensation program guidelines.
  • State statutes and regulations regarding contracts with mental health and other service providers, which vary by state.
  • State death notification statutes and local protocols, which vary by state.
  • State statutes and regulations regarding privacy and confidentiality laws affecting information collecting and sharing, which vary by state.
  • State worker's compensation.
  • Tribal Law and Order Act.

OVC’s Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program

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].

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August 2015   •   NCJ 248647
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