There is a large number of people, those directly affected by the event and their families, who need immediate information and direction regarding what to do. There may also be missing, injured or deceased people. There are concerned and distraught geographically diverse families and friends from a variety of cultures and religions. They are in shock, emotionally charged, and have questions. They have likely received little accurate information other than that something has happened to their loved ones.
This is a job for your family assistance team, hospital support team, and non-traveling family support team. To manage this you also need to establish a family assistance centre(s). The role of the family assistance centre is to provide a central location for family members/friends to gather. Here they should hear directly from the CEO of the affected company. The CEO should begin by apologising. They should receive technical briefings from agencies that are involved in any response, rescue or recovery efforts.
The families should then receive updates, as they are available. Working with each family are Specialty Assistance Team Members. Special Assistance Teams (SAT) are part of the family assistance teams and trained to work directly with survivors and families. The families that do not travel to the family assistance centre receive information and support at their locations from the non-traveling support team. In providing this support, the company is helping the families with their logistical support needs and providing a human face as a representative of the involved company and a conduit for information.
Part of the company’s role here is to build a “picture” of both the directly affected person and their families. These profiles can then be used in identifying an affected person if needed and identifying who should receive sympathy letters and support payments. A second part of the company’s role here is to establish expectations about what is going to happen, what the next steps are and what the potential time frames and outcomes will be. For almost all of them, this will be the first time anything like this has ever happened. They don’t know what to expect – they are in great shock and overwhelmed. Finally, this is how the company builds creditability with the families.
Other considerations are meeting the immediate mental health needs of the people directly affected, their families, and the responders if needed. Long term support is then transitioned to providers local to the families and employee benefits programs.
A note about families and friends – there are many different definitions of family and friends. In some cases, the legal definition will be important such as in making arrangements for the return of deceased or their personal property. However for everything else, the definition should be individually decided by those people who are directly affected. It is about them after all. In this blog, that definition applies to all people, regardless of race, gender, orientation, religion or nationality. So please consider lifestyles and religions that may be different than your own.
Following the September 11th attacks, in the U.S., we established a family assistance centre for one of the affected companies – a company who lost several hundred employees. Family members traveled to the NY area (special transportation was arranged and allowed), they received briefings from U.S. government and technical engineers on the dynamics of building collapse, the recovery and identification process, and were given expectations that it would be a very slow process. They were told that some people might not be identified. It also gave them an opportunity to see the “people” behind the response and know they were doing everything possible to not make the event worse for those families than it already was.