SUPPORTING FAMILIES DURING TIMES OF CRISIS
Understanding the Need for Family Assistance Centers
In the hours and days after a mass-casualty or mass-fatality incident occurs, families and friends will anxiously seek assistance in accessing information about the event and locating their loved one(s). As they search for information, they will frequently go to places where they assume it can be found. This often leads to a surge of individuals arriving at the incident site, or calling or showing up at local hospitals. In addition to the physical presence at these key locations, an influx of calls with information-seeking inquiries will be made to 911, hospitals, police, and fire departments or the Medical Examiner/Coroner’s (ME/C) Office, creating a significant burden on the agencies already busy with other aspects of response.
In this environment of uncertainty, worry, and need for information, Family Assistance Centers are an important resource for helping a community meet the needs of family and friends, and supporting the overall incident response. They provide a safe, protected, and supportive environment for families to gather while they await information on their missing, unaccounted for, or deceased loved ones. They offer a centralized location for providing updates and information to family members as information becomes available. Additionally, during most mass fatality situations, the Family Assistance Center will also be a central location for collecting information that will be pertinent to the medical examiner or coroner in facilitating the identification of the victims.
In general, the primary goals of a Family Assistance Center are to:
- Provide a private and secure place for families to gather, receive information about the response and recovery, and grieve.
- Protect families from the media and curiosity seekers.
- Facilitate information exchange between the Medical Examiner/Coroner’s Office and families so that the ME/C Office can obtain information needed to assist in identifying the victims.
- Address family’s informational, psychological, spiritual, medical, and logistical needs.
- Provide death notifications and facilitate the processing of death certificates and the release of human remains for final disposition.