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Formulating a Crisis Response Plan

When a mass-fatality event occurs, the community should already have in place a crisis response plan to effectively respond to the needs of victims and families. The many tasks and challenges involved in crisis response and recovery efforts require prior planning to ensure that adequate resources are identified, procedures are in place, and protocols are established. Prior planning by a community will enhance a coordinated response when a mass-fatality event occurs and help make it possible to meet the needs of victims and families. When a community has in place a crisis response plan, they will more effectively coordinate appropriate victim services and ensure that victims are notified of their statutory rights as victims of crime. As communities develop crisis response plans, they should keep in mind that effective crisis response planning includes representatives from relevant organizations and offices, including the medical examiner or coroner, law enforcement, the victim advocacy community, rescue workers, the prosecutor, mental health professionals, volunteer agencies (American Red Cross, Salvation Army), and the state VOCA victim assistance and compensation programs. As communities plan for a mass-fatality event, they need to realize that the chain of command will be altered with the arrival of each new group of volunteers and staff members. During the preplanning process, the community should put in place memorandums of understanding and service agreements in anticipation of the many changes that occur during the management of a mass-fatality event.

Agencies that the medical examiner or coroner may encounter at a mass-fatality or terrorism incident include HHS, DMORT, DMAT, FEMA, the American Red Cross, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Department of Justice, including the FBI and the local U.S. Attorney’s Office. NTSB will be involved in an aviation disaster or other major transportation accident; its Family Affairs Office is responsible for assisting victims and their families.

When planning a crisis response plan for a multiple-fatality event, a family assistance center is an important part of that plan. The crisis response plan must include consideration of locating and funding material resources as well as people resources—the personnel and agencies that will assist in the operation. Crisis response planners should regularly update materials on how to access these resources as well as any contracts, agreements, and memorandums of understanding. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office had a crisis response plan in place before 1995. Twice in 5 years the crisis response plan was implemented: on April 19, 1995, for the Oklahoma City bombing and on May 3, 1999, for the Oklahoma City tornado. Having a plan in place prior to these crises resulted in smoother, more effective response operations.

With advance planning, coordination among agencies, meetings to discuss each agency’s responsibilities, and practice of tabletop exercises and mock disasters, each community can develop a crisis response plan.


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Providing Relief to Families After a Mass Fatality
November 2002
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