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


Family Briefings

From the initial hours after an incident and throughout the response period, families will have a high level of interest in communications and information to help them understand what has happened to their loved one. Early interest will be in identifying the location and well-being of their loved one, but will also include questions about a range of topics, such as what caused the incident, what is occurring with the recovery of human remains, and what is the process for and status of victim identification.

The nature of families’ questions will change over the duration of the response and recovery.  Throughout this process, consistent, transparent, and honest communication with family members is key. Failure to meet families’ informational needs in a timely manner can erode the trust that is essential to successful response and recovery operations.

Family briefings are a core component of FAC operations, and provide a structured and routine mechanism for providing informational updates to families and addressing their questions. This consistency and process can help provide a sense of structure and familiarity for families when many things around them feel chaotic.

In general, the briefings will include information on the progress of recovery efforts (human remains recovery), the identification of victims, the investigation, and other areas of concern.

The following are recommendations to consider when planning your family briefings:

  • Establish a regular schedule for briefings and communicate this information to the families. In general, briefings should occur at least twice daily (e.g. morning and afternoon), but as frequently as necessary. Maintain a consistent briefing schedule even if there is no new information to report.
  • Briefings should be provided to families physically at the FAC as well as those away from the FAC. A conference call capability should be made available for families to call in if they are not on-site (transcription services are also recommended).
  • Communicate information to families before making statements to the media. Briefing messages should be coordinated with the Joint Information Center or Public Information Officer to ensure talking points are coordinated among relevant agencies and that information being given to families is consistent with messages being given to the public.
  • Address information regarding victims, the identification process, and response and recovery efforts in the briefings. Emphasize to families that the FAC is the best source of current and accurate information at each briefing.
  • Present information in terms family members can understand.
  • Repeat information frequently during briefings to accommodate the different levels of receptiveness, information processing, and grieving among family members.
  • Include question and answer periods after each briefing (may take more than an hour).
  • Be honest with family members if a question cannot be answered, but try to get an answer as quickly as possible, ideally by the next briefing.
  • Provide copies of transcripts or notes and any related information sheets or handouts for families to help keep track of the information they are receiving.
  • Briefings should be conducted by individuals in charge of key areas of response, such as the FAC director or incident commander, Chief Medical Examiner/Coroner, Chief of Police, etc., (or their high level designees). Consistency among the individuals conducting briefings should be maintained when possible.