Michael Bugenhagen, FEI Business Development Manager

A few months ago I wrote about challenges experienced by a county government after it activated its “help line” in the aftermath of an active shooting situation. Today, I want to review the on-site response to that tragedy.

An immediate need was to identify a reunification and assistance location where people could gather while seeking answers as to the safety of their loved ones. The first site, selected for convenience, was quickly disqualified for being too close to the crisis activity. A second site addressed the challenge of proximity, but ultimately was determined to be a poor choice for two primary reasons: Size and access.

The inability to accommodate enough people was identified early, but the access concern took longer to recognize. People could get in and out easily, so what was the issue? Privacy.

The site had one primary entrance and exit and a single parking lot. As the crisis unfolded, those impacted by the event could not escape the presence of media. While the media certainly has the right to do its job, traumatized individuals should be allowed entry and exit points that shield them from media bombardment.

Fortunately, all concerns were addressed by the third and final reunification and assistance center location.  While the overall response to the event was commendable, there were clearly a few hiccups. But with proper planning, these challenges can be reduced, if not eliminated.

No one with the county had planned for a crisis event to occur at the location where it did, nor during the time when it happened. This is somewhat understandable, as governments cannot be expected to have plans for every location throughout the community. However, businesses – entertainment, hospitality, nonprofit, education, etc. – have an opportunity to plan for the best response and recovery outcome possible when tragedy strikes.

While I would recommend working with an outside, independent organization like FEI as the
best option to start the process, here are some general takeaways for reunification and
assistance planning:

  • Always identify initial evacuation meeting locations.
  • Know who might be responding to your event: Law enforcement, fire and ambulance to start, but consider also the media, Red Cross, faith-based organizations, the medical examiner and so on.
  • Learn where you might best establish family reunification and assistance centers and inform first responders, as they will control the scene.
  • When determining optimal locations, consider how much space is available; multiple entrance/exit points; restroom facilities (a church may have the space and access points, for instance, but often lack suitable restroom facilities); and the utilization and availability of various rooms for different needs.
  • Accept that the initial reunification point may change to a more robust assistance center with space for providing information to victims and their families; for the impacted to talk with trauma specialists; for kids to be cared for as the impacted address other concerns; for private phone calls to be made; for food and beverages to be distributed; and for ample restroom access.

No one wants to imagine the worst-case scenario, yet the perception of your preparedness in the wake of a disaster will have significant impact on your reputation and the continuity of your organization. Remember that, for a plan to be successful, it must be developed correctly, identify the right people for key roles, be updated regularly and include training.

Interested in discussing how FEI can help your organization to prepare for, respond to and recover from crisis? Contact us today.