SUPPORTING FAMILIES DURING TIMES OF CRISIS
Activating FAC Operations
When an incident results in multiple casualties or fatalities, your emergency response team should evaluate the need for a Family Assistance Center. The decision to activate should take into consideration:
- The potential number of families involved (based on the number of potential injured or deceased).
- The number of hospitals receiving patients.
- The existing resources available by hospitals and the medical examiner/coroner to manage a surge in public inquires.
- The nature and location of the incident.
The decision to activate a FAC should be made as early into the event as possible. The immediacy of family, media, and public inquiries warrants rapid implementation of a basic system to support family and public calls and address the need for assistance. In the earliest hours after an incident the priorities should be:
- Ensuring there is a safe place for victims’ family members to gather and grieve.
- Providing accurate, honest, and transparent information.
- Providing basic resources such as first aid, food, and emotional support services (mental health and spiritual care).
Your primary objectives should be to:
- Identify and mobilize resources for a FAC (anticipate 24 hours to set up).
- Establishing a Family Reception Center to serve families until a FAC is established.
- Activating a call center to answer public and family inquires and collect missing person reports.
Demobilization planning should begin at the start of your FAC operations!
U.S. FAC Activations in Perspective
The following are examples of start-up times and length of service for FACs from recent U.S. mass fatalities.
- The Oklahoma bombing (169 deaths): FAC opened within three hours and stayed open for 16 days, until the last body was recovered.
- The 9/11/2001 Pentagon attack (182 deaths): FAC call center was open by 3 p.m. September 11 and the FAC opened with 50 volunteers by 7 a.m. the next morning. It operated 24/7 from September 12 through October 12, 2001.
- The 9/11/2001 World Trade Center attack (approximately 2,800 deaths): FAC was opened at its first location on 9/12, moved to a second location the afternoon of 9/12, and moved to its third location on 9/15. When lines of concerned family members stretched eight blocks in four directions, a new fourth site, Pier 94, was prepared. The FAC was open for approximately 460 days with Pier 94, the final site, closing December 2002.
- The Hurricane Katrina hit on Louisiana, August 29, 2005 (approximately 1,460 deaths—910 deaths processed through DMORT morgues—and 13,197 missing persons reports): FAC opened September 7, 2005 and stayed open for 342 days, closing August 14, 2006.
*Adapted from Managing Mass Fatalities: A Toolkit for Planning