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

User Guide

Goals and Objectives

The goal of this toolkit is to create an online resource for local health departments and other emergency response organizations to learn about and access tools to support planning and operating a Family Assistance Center.

The objectives of this toolkit are to help local health departments:

  • Develop tools and templates to guide planning and for use during operation of a Family Assistance Center
  • Develop guidelines for communities to scope and plan for a Family Assistance Center

How to Use This Toolkit

Use this toolkit as a planning guide. It is designed to lead you through basic steps in the process of developing a FAC plan. Model tools and templates are also included to use as you equip your organization and your community to provide family assistance services in an emergency or disaster. The FAC plan you develop should serve as an annex or accompaniment to your local mass-casualty or mass-fatality incident plan. This planning will also complement, and should be coordinated with, your local disaster behavioral health planning activities.

This toolkit is made up of four primary sections:

Background Statement

Over the last several years Public Health – Seattle & King County (Public Health) has worked with partners throughout the county to develop a concept of operations plan for providing family assistance services during mass casualty and mass fatality incidents. The primary focus of this work has been planning to operate a FAC. As the lead agency for Emergency Support Function - 8 (ESF 8) Public Health and Medical Services, PHSKC as an important role in helping to coordinate the planning for mass-casualty and mass-fatality incidents. As a part of a comprehensive health, medical, and mortuary response, our concern is both addressing the physical well-being of the injured and the respectful handling of the deceased, but also the overall social and psychological well-being of the survivors, their loved ones, and the responders.

In King County, PHSKCas the unique role of housing the County Medical Examiner Office. While this organizational relationship is not customary for many local health departments, the difference in mission, functions, and organizational culture between the Medical Examiner Office and other aspects of PHSKC are similar to many other communities. Successful planning for mass-fatality incidents has required us to work together, learn more about each other’s roles and responsibilities, understand our respective goals, and develop collaborative strategies for best meeting the needs of our community members during a disaster. It has also required us to reach beyond our own department to build a collaborative planning team with multiple stakeholders including law enforcement, emergency management, fire and EMS, healthcare organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other community partners in order to develop a community-wide family assistance plan.

In order to share some of the tools and lessons from our work, PHSKC has partnered with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) to produce this FAC planning toolkit. We hope you find the toolkit to be a helpful guide as you develop or enhance your own FAC plans.

Comprehensive Resource Descriptions

Planning Considerations Checklist: This checklist is a tool to aid in assessing the current status of family assistance planning in a region or organization. It will also act as a prompt to suggest actions that you could take for further planning.

Support Agencies Contact Information: This worksheet can aid in organizing possible support agencies that help establish primary services within a FAC. 

Incident Command Chart: This chart is an example of all of the possible units that may need to be activated for a FAC facility. Depending on the size and type of the event some units may not need to be activated. This example also does not include any units that may support a FAC but may be located off-site (e.g., at an Emergency Operations Center).

Site Scaling Guide: This document gives a basic scaling guide for a FAC site, equipment, and staff.  To use the chart, enter the number of casualties from the incident in cell “E6” and press enter, all other cells will automatically populate giving you a suggested guideline for facility size and equipment numbers necessary. 

Staffing Overview: This document lists all possible staffing positions necessary to run a FAC. Depending on the size and type of incident some positions may not be necessary or could be combined. This document outlines all possible primary and secondary support services that may be offered at a FAC and would require staffing.

Equipment and Supplies: This document outlines all of the necessary equipment to set up and run a FAC. For most events, all of the equipment and supplies outlined will be necessary.

Mass Fatalities Family Assistance Activities: This chart outlines that major purpose, location, services, and special considerations that should be taken into account while planning for specific family assistance activities.

Family Assistance Center Functions: This document outlines many of the primary services provided at a FAC and the agencies or organizations that may be responsible for those services.

General FAC Operations

Primary and Secondary Services: This checklist outlines the primary services that should be represented in a FAC, as well as the secondary services that could also be necessary depending on the incident. 

Prospective Site Assessment Worksheet: This document can be used in pre-planning to establish possible FAC sites, or just in time to provide suggested guidelines and site assessment tools. This document outlines planning considerations when setting up a FAC including the type of facility, room specifications, all of the services that can be provided at the facility, and suggested specifications for a FAC. 

Activation Checklist: This form should be used upon setup of a FAC to coordinate partner organizations and actions.

Staff Daily Sign-in Sheet: All staff must check in and out of the FAC each day. 

Family and Friends Daily Sign-in Sheet: Each day, every family member must sign in at the registration desk to ensure that the appropriate people are at the FAC.

Daily Operations Overview: At the end of each day, this form should be filled out by unit leads and submitted to the Command Staff. 

Demobilization Checklist: This checklist outlines items that should be considered when demobilizing a FAC facility, as well as action items that should be addressed when a FAC is closing. 

Call Center Intake Form: This document should be used by call center staff when receiving calls from families or friends about missing persons. If an electronic call center intake form is available you can use this document and then enter or transcribe the information. If an electronic call center intake form is not available, scan the form to keep an electronic copy and then file the form. 

Victim Identification Services

Family and Friend Registration Form: This form is used at the registration desk for family members and friend that come to the FAC seeking information about their loved ones. This form can be used in addition to an electronic sign-in system and then entered or transcribed, or in place of an electronic sign-in system. 

VIP Form: The VIP form is used by DMORT to collect antemortem data from families and friends about the suspected missing victims at the FAC. If an electronic records and tracking system is available, the contents of the VIP form should be entered or scanned into the system. If an electronic system is not available, the forms should be scanned to keep an electronic copy and paper copies should be filed. 

Requested Records Log: This form tracks all requests for records relating to an individual victim or missing person and should be kept with the victim’s file. If available, use the local medical examiner/coroner’s forms. 

Remains Release Authorization: This form is used to release the remains of a victim to the legal next of kin, and to the designated funeral home or mortuary services. If available, use the local medical examiner/coroner’s forms. 

Frequently Asked Questions for the Medical Examiner/Coroner: This form outlines many of the questions that families may have for the medical examiner/coroner regarding the victim identification process. A representative from the ME/C’s office may wish to address many of these questions and concerns in the family briefings. 

Behavioral Health Services

Behavioral Health Services Annex: This annex outlines the main purpose and services of the behavioral health unit. It also provides an overview of job qualifications, required resources, and operating procedures. 

Psychological First Aid Worksheets for Providers: These worksheets will aid providers in assessing clients within the FAC facility and referring clients to outside behavioral health assistance. 

Psychological First Aid Handouts: These handouts provide clients with tools to recognize common behavioral health responses after an incident. These forms can be useful tools to give to a client, but could also be used by providers. 

Secondary Services Referral Form: This form should be filled out by behavioral health providers or other family assistance staff to refer a client to secondary services not provided at the FAC. This form is meant to be given to the client with the contact information of the services recommended. 

Job Action Sheets

Behavioral Health Branch Chief
Behavioral Health Team leader
Behavioral Health Responder

Job Descriptions

Chaplain – Spiritual Care Worker Job Description
Licensed Mental Health Counselor Job Description
Licensed Psychologist Job Description
Marriage & Family Therapist Job Description
Public Health Reserve Corps Disaster Behavioral Health Response Team Job Description
Psychiatric Nurse Job Description
Psychiatrist Job Description
Registered Mental Health Counselor Job Description
Social Worker Job Description