Creating and Operating a Family Assistance Center - A Toolkit for Public Health


Establish Your Planning Assumptions

Mass-casualty and mass-fatality incidents are complex and variable. While we are not able to predict exactly how the incident will unfold, there are core assumptions we can make based on previous events. When building your FAC plan, it is important to define the assumptions that serve as a basis for your plan, and help identify what the plans limitations may be. Based on lessons learned from previous local, national, and international incidents, here are a series of planning assumptions to consider:

  • Incidents warranting the activation of a FAC may occur as a result of natural, human-caused, or technological sources.
  • Eight to ten family members or loved ones will arrive or need assistance for each potential victim.
  • After an incident, family members will immediately call or self-report to many agencies or locations seeking information about their loved ones. This could include the incident site, 911, 211, 311, hospitals, clinics, fire departments, police stations, or the Medical Examiner/Coroners Office.
  • Not all family members will come to the FAC. Services need to be available virtually to support and provide information to those who are not physically on site at the FAC.
  • Coordination among responding agencies about family member welfare inquiries, missing persons reports, and patient tracking will be necessary.
  • The FAC should be operational, at least with basic services, within 24 hours after the event.
  • A Family Reception Center may be needed to provide a place for families to convene until a FAC is established. This may occur at a hospital, airport, or other community site.
  • The FAC will need to operate 24 hours during the initial days or weeks after an incident.
  • The FAC operations may be long term.
  • Family members will have high expectations regarding:
    • The identification of the deceased,
    • The return of their loved ones to them, and
    • Ongoing information and updates.
  • Victim identification may take multiple days, weeks, months, or a year or more depending on the nature of the incident.
  • Not all families will grieve or process information in the same way.
  • Ethnic and cultural traditions will be important factors in how families grieve.
  • Family members who live afar may travel to the FAC and need assistance with basic resources such as lodging, toiletries, clothes, prescriptions, etc.
  • Family members that live locally may chose to stay overnight at the FAC, especially in the initial days after an incident.
  • Family interviews will need to be conducted with multiple family members in order to collect sufficient antemortem information to assist with victim identification.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board will be the lead agency for operating a FAC during general aviation or Amtrak rail incidents.
  • During general aviation or Amtrak rail incidents the airlines or rail carrier are responsible for ensuring the delivery of FAC services.
  • Both mental health and spiritual care resources should be available at the FAC.
  • Responding to a mass-casualty or mass-fatality incident can be overwhelming and lead to traumatic stress. Support for responders and staff at the FAC will be essential.