My primary work for the past 20 years has been to help children and families suffering from the impact of trauma-related symptoms to cope and recover. In this role, I have worked with communities nationwide to respond to mass casualty events like school shootings in the immediate aftermath and to develop plans to provide needed interventions in both the long- and short-term. I have also worked with multiple disciplines including first responders, school personnel, mental health professionals and the like to develop proactive crisis management and response & recovery plans for various jurisdictions.
It can be a formidable task to help a community to develop and practice a crisis management and response plan for one key reason: The inherent conflict in preparing for something that we hope will never occur. One of the most successful ways in which to prepare for large-scale events is to develop collaborative models for smaller scale events. A critical incident occurs daily in almost every community that would both be effectively addressed and provide practice by collaborative approaches among multiple disciplines.
Many people want to help a school and community overwhelmed by a mass-shooting event. Often, concerned people send physical items or messages designed to comfort. Sometimes individuals provide support by demonstrating outrage in the media or holding vigils. However, these do not necessarily help a community recover and move forward.
Here are key things to consider when developing a response to a mass casualty event:
1. Each school and community has its own culture and needs that should be understood before effective responses are made and garnered.
2. A return to prior routines as best as possible is one of the most important interventions in the aftermath of mass shootings and other traumatic events. Too many, too varied and too protracted shows of support by well-meaning people may keep the traumatic experience at the forefront of victims’ minds and interfere with victim’s opportunity to recover.
3. Effective intervention and support around school shootings needs to be local. The best way to support the needs of those affected is to work through the local providers and agencies that have prior relationships and will be in the community for the long haul.
4. National or international experts can help by providing training and on-going consultation to local providers. With training, local people can provide the appropriate immediate, intermediate and long-term programs and interventions that children and families need so that the community can sustain these efforts over time.
5. Local leadership should be encouraged to take a deliberate and thoughtful approach to managing their situation. Local leadership is under tremendous pressure to act quickly and immediately. In the absence of a well-crafted and practiced plan, leaders often feel obliged to request and accept offers of help from multiple experts and organizations. The implementation of multiple interventions and programs by different people is a recipe for confusion and conflict at the very time that community members need structure and organization. One coherent plan and message arrived at by consensus offers the support and structure that affected people require.
There are several resources and exemplar programs already available for community leaders to use to develop their own response and recovery plans:
Skills for Psychological Recovery: Field Operations Guide. The National Center for PTSD & the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
Psychological First Aid For Schools: Field Operations Guide, 2nd Edition. (2012). Los Angeles: National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
Additional resources for parents and families are available through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network at www.nctsn.org
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