It is what every organization and senior manager dreads: the sound of gunshots or an explosion, terrified employees running and hiding, a flood of calls to 911 followed by frantic calls from families, and the convergence of armed law enforcement, paramedics and media on the scene.

Mass casualty event (MCE) response is a critical component of enterprise security. From responding to an active shooter incident to the detonation of an explosive devices, security professionals must have a clear plan for situations when injuries/fatalities occur.

Organizations often conduct tabletop exercises and training for the tactical response to MCEs but rarely include plans for assisting victims. Caring for victims is a critically important but often overlooked aspect of the response. Empathy is not enough. The availability of practical assistance provided in a compassionate manner can be a determinative factor in how employees cope and view the overall experience.

Victims may include multiple groups of affected individuals: the severely injured survivors and their families, families of the deceased, and individuals not physically injured but likely to have heard or seen the attack or tried to help the injured and dying. Employers should expect to provide or facilitate the provision of information and support services in the immediate aftermath, as surviving victims heal and return to work, as families of the dead begin to face a future without their loved ones.

Establishing a care team

It is important to identify, train and prepare individuals within the organization who will be assisting victims. Care team members should be carefully selected and trained to work with individuals and families in crisis. Care team members must be able to work under pressure, be empathetic without becoming overwhelmed, practice active listening, and be resourceful while recognizing that not everything can be fixed.

A care team leader should be knowledgeable, able to adjust and adapt to evolving needs and challenges, know when it is right to cut red tape, engage external partners, manage information about the victim response up and down the organization, and keep an eye on how care team members are coping. The care team leader should also be able to prepare and brief senior managers for interactions with victims and families and for understanding how their decisions and actions will impact victims. Managers and care team members charged with helping victims must be educated about violence-related trauma and evidence-supported interventions and assistance.

Consider tapping into or expanding employee assistance, health services or human resources. The most effective care teams may consist of representatives from all three, including members who can explain and expedite urgently needed benefits.

Proactive and routine communication

The importance of clear and timely communication cannot be overstated. The first communication with victims and families will set the tone and level of trust for everything that follows.

Victims and families will expect to be kept informed about what is happening, what to expect, and how to obtain needed support services. Employers should quickly activate a communication channel with victims, their families and other affected employees. The aftermath of an event is chaotic. Initial reporting may be inaccurate and will take time to gather and verify. Be prepared to repeat information since trauma can affect the ability of individuals to process and retain details. Early and ongoing communication can mitigate some of the early confusion and address misinformation. Employers should work with law enforcement to ensure victims and families receive accurate and critical information before it appears in the media.

Employees should be reminded to update their next of kin information. Families of employees should also know how to contact the employer in the event of an emergency.

Victim assistance centers, sometimes known as compassion or resilience centers, are often established as a temporary place where survivors and families can receive information, case updates, and a range of support services including immediately needed benefits. The assistance center can be established in-person or via an online platform and virtual briefings.

In addition to the care team, victims should be able to communicate with enterprise leadership following a mass casualty event. Leaders who express empathy for the survivors of a traumatic event can help aid the recovery process for victims.

The value of partners

Coordination with key partners will maximize available information and support. In a domestic event, partners may include:

  • Victim specialists from the nearest FBI field office
  • The HQ-based mass casualty response team from the FBI Victim Services Division (VSD)
  • The Red Cross
  • Community-based victim services providers
  • State crime victims’ compensation programs
  • Consular services (for international mass casualty events)

Security leaders should know in advance the types of emergency assistance that can be provided by the company and that which may be available through the FBI and other entities with resources for victims of crime. Common support services may include emergency travel and lodging, medical evacuation, repatriation of victims’ remains, emergency childcare, replacement of lost or damaged documents and devices, funeral and burial assistance and crisis mental health counseling.

Receiving personal effects is important to families of deceased victims and surviving employees. Some items have emotional value, and others are important to daily living, such as car and house keys, wallets and cell phones. Some items may be retained as evidence, but most can be associated, cleaned and returned. Insurance companies will usually cover the cost of crime scene cleanup. There are vendors that specialize in cleaning and decontaminating scenes and items. If the FBI is involved, the VSD can help families to understand and navigate these processes.

Caring for the victims of MCEs should be a high priority for enterprise security leaders in the aftermath of an incident. From partnering with outside organizations to creating a clear channel of communication with survivors, there are many steps security professionals can take to ensure as steady a response as possible for victims of a mass casualty event.

This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.