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Incident Command


     A. Determine the appropriate local, state or federal Incident Commander. Then establish a command center and secure and seal the incident scene/area

     B. Locate the incident command center with reasonably close proximity to the scene and with enough space for meeting and conferencing

     C. Make sure there is adequate space for

  1. Meeting and Conferencing space

  2. Parking

  3. A sheltered area for distributing water and food and temporarily storing donations

  4. Facility(ies) to meet the sanitary needs of first responders, volunteers and officials

     D. Consider a large, separate, restricted location for donated goods (in addition to the command center)

     E. Fence/barricade the command center so that you can control media and onlooker access to the center

     F. The National Guard, if called, will require an area for living and meeting quarters and all necessary equipment

     G. Consider a separate location for the media. Rope off said area with access allowed by only credentialed personnel

     H. A safe place for the victims should be established immediately



     A. You will require a dedicated team to handle appropriate logistics (i.e. material donations, vehicles & equipment and volunteers)

     B. Rescue workers may need to be fed. Local food banks, restaurants and merchants can be helpful in this regard

     C. If applicable, send out a call for help to the local business establishments

  1. They can assist in ways you may not have considered

  • What kind of equipment and materials will you need

  • What quantity of equipment and materials will you need



     A. Notify all appropriate local and state officials and agency representatives as soon as possible

     B. Be prepared to interact and manage multiple agencies from each of the local, State and Federal levels

  1. Department of Education

  2. Department of Justice

  3. Department of Human Services

     C. Designate a PIO (Public Information Officer) with the responsibility of keeping the press up-to-date

  1. No other incident team member should be allowed to approach or update the press

  2. Recommend twice per day briefings at fixed times, unless there is significant breaking news

  3. If there is a gag order in place, all communications with the press MUST be done through the PIO

     D. After the event, cellular phone service may be disrupted. Consider standing up a temporary mobile site (cellular-on-wheels) to re-establish communication



     A. Assure adequate access to the scene is maintained at all times

     B. Create a safe perimeter around the incident. An area where emergency personnel can be relatively safe

     C. Be prepared for an onslaught of medical, police, fire, media and civilians to approach the incident area.

     D. The command center may consider implementing a day-pass procedure to restrict access to the site to authorized personnel only

     E. Depending on the type of the crisis, substantial fencing may be required

     F. Site access issues can be reduced by implementing a 12hr on / 12hr off schedule for first responders 

  1. Briefings before each shift and debriefings after each shift should be mandatory

  2. Make sure the schedule does not work the first responders to exhaustion



     A. Establish victim triage and EMS pickup areas. Depending on the size and type of the crisis, more than one area may be required

     B. Transport victims to the appropriate hospitals (trauma victims to trauma hospitals and non-trauma victims to regular hospitals)



     A. Limiting scene access will help to reduce future community and official personnel recovery costs 

     B. If a Resilience Center is not available, suggest a temporary center be located at a school, church or community center

  1. The Resilience Center is the location to provide briefings and counseling to the victims, victim's families and first responders

  2. Twice per day briefings for this at-risk group should be sufficient for most incidents

  3. Recommend that the press be restricted from easy access to those at-risk, for their comfort and privacy

  4. The Resilience Center should be staffed with Victim's Service personnel, appropriate mental health professionals and clergy. Support for this center is often temporarily provided by charities (i.e. Red Cross, the Salvation Army and others)

     C. Affected first responders, if necessary, will need at-will access to mental health professionals.

  1. If your Police, Fire or EMS departments do not provide mental health services, contact

    • your local mental health agencies

    • your state mental health agencies 

  2. If a Resilience Center exists, it may provide a more anonymous means of receiving counseling.

     D. You will require public school system involvement to assess the level of community damage. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  1. Student Behavior

  2. Truency

  3. Falling grades

  4. Acting out

     E. Open a Family Assistance Center within two weeks of the event; 2-3 days is better.

     F. Open a Resiliency Center within thirty (30) days of the event

     G. The State shuold have available a $250,000 slush fund available for establishing a Resiliency Center at need



     A. Set up an executive committee to manage the incident aftermath

  1. Committee to be organized so as to NOT fall under the open records statutes

  2. Focus on the victims

  3. Welcome community involvement

  4. Use realistic timeframes when deciding on the sequence of events



  1. Be prepared for possible subsequent related incidents (i.e. additional shooters, explosive devices, reported bomb scares and local hazards)

  2. Set up crisis hotlines to help the general public.

  3. The executive committee formed to manage the aftermath of the incident be focused on the victims and should welcome community involvement

  4. Meet with the families of the dead (all of them) before meeting with survivors and their families.

  5. Keep the incident as non-political as possible. DO NOT allow politicians to make political hay out of the event.

  6. Assign a victim's advocate to communicate the dates of important events before they are announced in the press (e.g. Trial dates, prayer vigils, etc.)

  7. Hire Professionals immediately. You will require more than volunteers

    1. PIO

    2. Victims Services

    3. Incident Services

    4. Logistics

To do's missing from most disaster plans that you must consider and implement immediately
I. Funding

In a great many cases, dozens of charities will pop up in the weeks following an incident; some valid some fraudulent. Even if all the funds were valid, the number of funds can be overwhelming. For example, following the Newtown shooting, 66 funds were created with an aggregate value of well over $20 million. Some of the money was earmarked, some was not. Who manages the distribution? Who fights the legal battles? We have found a way to avoid this problem. 


  1. Organize and designate a committee to handle funding issues

  2. Limit the number of funds to 2 if at all possible; allocate one for "Victims and Families", and one for "Victims and Victim Services".

  • Funds for Victims and Families must be dispersed solely to victims and victim's families.

  • Funds reserved for "Victims and Victim Services" can be spent on mental health care, rehabilitation services and any other service the victims or families may require immediately or over the years.

  • When possible, steer donations to the "Victims and Victim Services" fund because this will provide you greater flexibility for distribution.

  • Recommended dispersion is 60/40 or 50/50 for victims/victim services.

    • Victims will spend the money when it is received; however, victim's services will be needed on an extended basis especially during:

      • Anniversary dates

      • Similar occurrences

      • Court proceedings, if applicable​​


3.  Don't distribute all the victim's service funds immediately. Victims and their families will consume resources for years. Every time there is another event, 

mental health service use jumps. We recommend distributing no more than 50% of the funds reserved for victims and services initially.


4. It often occurs that family squabbles will interrupt the distribution of funds to victims' families. If these squabbles require court intervention, it will take at least three (3) years before any money is distributed. Additionally, lawyers and court costs will reduce the distribution amount by 40% and the person responsible for fund distribution will need to be paid for an additional three years.


5. Most (75-90%) Federal money allocated for the handling of the incident goes to the Judicial (see below). You CANNOT count on this money being available for victims or services.


6. Find an iconic, non-political spokesperson to explain funding issues to the public

  • They should handle the publicity

  • A retired politician is suggested; not a current politician


7. Presenting a plan of distribution is highly recommended, including an explanation of the timeframes involved.


8. Creating prefund plans are highly recommended.


9. To avoid confusion, the name of the fund should not contain the word "Victim".


10. The NRC is in the process of securing 5 fund repositories that can be used at a moments' notice. This is to help deter the creation of fraudulent fund accounts. Contact us for more information.


11. Allocate 2-5% of incoming donations towards the maintenance of a Community Resilience Center

II. Media

The media will ​gravitate towards horrific and heart-breaking stories. As the adage says, "If it bleeds, it leads". It is best to be up front with the media. 


  1. Designate a PIO (Public Information Officer) with the responsibility of keeping the press up-to-date. No other incident team member should be allowed to approach or update the press.

  2. Set fixed times, usually twice per day to communicate with the press, unless there is breaking news.

  3. Call out their mistakes sooner rather than later. If you wait for a board to approve any message, it will be lost in tomorrow's news.

  4. Keep press releases simple and limited to a single page or less. Often, the media will use the release verbatim.

  5. Incident commander should set up a Joint Information System (JIS) to accumulate information and decide on what facts can/should be released. This group must make immediate decisions; if they wait days to respond to erroneous press claims, they will lose the opportunity to do so.

  6. Emotion trumps fact

  7. In social media, meanness trumps facts

III. Medical

In any crisis there will be victims. If there are a large number, the hospitals will be quickly overwhelmed. Even Boston hospitals had difficulty handling so many injured. Medical costs for victims and their families will normally rise to unaffordable levels causing greater hardship. We have learned some harsh lessons.


  • Perform triage in the field and route the victims to hospitals that cater to their injuries.  In heat of the moment, it is easy to shove as many victims into an ambulance and get them to the nearest hospital. This is not effective. Critical care cases should be taken to the nearest trauma center and the less critical cases to the nearest hospital. The reason is that most hospitals don't have a trauma center. Taking critically injured victims to a normal hospital reduces their chance for recovery. Alternately, taking less critically injured victims to the trauma center quickly clogs their beds so that they are not able to handle the more critical cases.

  • Hospitals can and will write off medical expenses for the victims, if you ask. Be persistent. It took three months for the final hospital to donate services after the Aurora Theater shooting.   Medical bills after the incident can escalate quickly. In Boston, for example several victims have incurred exhorbitant medical bills. This does not include additional care that will be required for artificial limbs, etc. 

IV. Judicial

In the heat of the moment, it is easy to forget the judicial element of a crisis. Almost always, at the end of the crisis, the courts and lawyers get involved in a very expensive manner. For example, when the Oklahoma bombing trial was moved to Denver, almost a thousand people were required each day to simply feed the number of reporters, witnesses and legal counsel. Denver had not budgeted for such an onslaught of on-lookers. We have learned that:


  1. Federal funding will be earmarked almost exclusively for upcoming court costs and legal fees. Do note count on them being available to pay for first responder overtime or victim restitution

  2. Costs for Judicial sector will quickly rise and will frequently exceed the amount provided in funding


V. Mental Health

When a rubber band is stretched beyond its resiliency point, it will not resume its normal shape again. It is the same with a person; if they are stretched beyond their emotional resiliency point, they cannot recover fully. 


  1. Counseling for the victims and families must start immediately. At Newtown, counseling started within an hour

  2. Remember to provide counseling for first responders. This will be an event most have never prepared for

  3. Remove the families to a nearby local facility; talking to other victims has shown to be one of the most effective forms of therapy

  4. Remember to engage the faith-based community, they can be of enormous help

  5. It's too late to prepare first responders when the crisis occurs, train early and often

  6. Strongly consider setting up a Community Resilience Center. Victims and their families, first responders, even community leaders will require an emotionally safe location to help them recover. As mentioned above, talking with other survivors has shown to be very effective for recovery.


Common Incident Command Elements

There is a common theme that runs through any major disaster. It involves dealing with the public through their donations, the media through their tendency to ignore the effect their reporting has on the victims and their families; the medical community through their reluctance to write-off medical expenses; the judicial system through their consumption of most federal funding; and, the mental health system which even if it provides sufficient numbers of counselors, first responders often do not utilize their services.

Through the experience at Columbine, the Aurora Shooting, Newtown shooting and Boston bombing, the NRC has identified best practices to limit the impact of the above circumstances can inflict.​

© 2013 by The National Resiliency Center, All rights reserved.

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