Five minutes or less – that’s how quickly 70% of active shooter incidents end, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Security and risk management leaders rightly focus most of their efforts on preventing and responding to active or potential threats – those first five minutes. This is practical and logical since the consequences can be grave and long-lasting. But once an event is over, like the shooting at the University of Virginia , once an assailant has been neutralized, what’s next?
It’s critical that organizations also include post-incident recovery into emergency management planning. In the aftermath of violent events, incident sites become active crime scenes, and a cascade of recovery, communications, and legal issues begins.
Take the recent shooting at UVA, for example. While preventative measures were in place and students say they were well-trained to respond to an active shooter scenario, the trauma that people experience from a mass shooting or other horrific events demonstrates the importance of recovery priorities.
“How do we deal with it afterwards?” said anthropology student Em Gunter. “What’s it going to be like in a week, in a month?”
What to Do Once a Threat is Neutralized
Whether or not UVA is using post-incident best practices to address student and staff mental health in the wake of this incident is difficult to know. But clearly those affected are impacted in many ways, which should serve as reminder that all organizations should include extended recovery efforts as part of their crisis response plans.
Once a threat is neutralized, the wounded have been evacuated, and all individuals are accounted for, leaders should engage in post-incident assessments and activities in coordination with local law enforcement and emergency personnel, including:
- Staffing/standing up a Family Assistance Center (FAC)
- Assessing the psychological state of those at the scene and referring them to health care specialists accordingly
- Employing continuity plans to ensure mission-essential functions are carried out
- Communicating to victims, staff, families, and the media
- Determining a transition plan that includes when to resume normal operations
Communication in Crisis
Another key component of post-incident preparedness is crisis communications. Organizational leaders must be able to respond promptly, accurately, and confidently during an emergency and in the hours and days that follow. If the public perceives event fallout isn’t being handled appropriately, an organization’s image and credibility may suffer.
For any active shooter incident, like the shooting at UVA, there may be requests for information from local, regional, or national media. While the primary responsibility for dealing with the media lies with law enforcement, organizational representatives must have a competent and compassionate communications element as part of their emergency operation plan.
Family Support is Essential
As seen by the shooting at UVA, victim and family support are also essential to ensuring a successful recovery. In fact, the quality of the overall response to an active shooter incident will, in large part, be judged by the response to victims and families.
The National Center for PTSD estimates that 28% of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and about a third develop acute stress disorder. Grief counseling is crucial for victims, those who knew the victims, and others less directly affected who may still experience PTSD or other anxieties. An organization’s role is, at minimum, to facilitate appropriate counseling to restore affected persons to a baseline emotional well-being as quickly as possible.
These efforts are so vital that, in some circumstances, federal and state laws mandate care and provide substantial resources to accommodate action. Prior familiarity with these resources, such as toll-free numbers and other tools, will allow officials to immediately provide valuable information to victims, families, staff, and others affected by the tragedy.
Five minutes or less. Does your organization’s preparedness include post-incident recovery?
With expertise including Run-Hide-Fight, situational awareness, active shooter preparedness and response training, conflict avoidance and verbal de-escalation, The Power of Preparedness provides critical guidance that can save lives. Contact us to learn more.