Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on September 4, 2018.

When The Shooting Stops

Recovery is the longest, most expensive, and most difficult phase of a mass violence incident—yet it’s often given the least attention


For the past 15 years, Kathryn Floyd has thought a lot about the many conundrums of mass violence and terrorism events: What drives someone to commit a heinous act of violence? Can these events be predicted or prevented? Recently, she has focused her attention on how to better address the needs of victims in the aftermath of these horrific episodes.

In March, Floyd’s personal and professional lives intersected. A gunman entered a veterans’ home where Floyd’s best friend worked, near Napa, California, and took a group of employees hostage. The standoff that ensued ended with three female workers and the gunman dead. Floyd’s friend was not physically harmed.

Floyd, the mass violence and terrorism visiting fellow at the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., immediately flew to California in a personal capacity to support her friend. Suddenly, she was in the thick of applying the lessons she preached.

“I was like, ‘What is happening?’” she told me during an interview in July. “You don’t expect your personal and professional lives to come in contact, which is the biggest lie ever, right? I’m in the business of telling people, ‘It’s when, not if,’ and then it happens to someone really close to you and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, how could this happen? How could this happen to my friend?’”

In July, Floyd visited NFPA headquarters to lend her expertise in reviewing training modules developed for the just-released NFPA 3000™ (PS), Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program. The document, developed by an all-star cast of experienced fire, emergency medical services, law enforcement, and emergency management professionals, gives jurisdictions detailed guidance on how to craft and integrate preparedness, response, and recovery plans for the types of mass violence events that Floyd has spent a career studying.

While the media and many agencies themselves tend to focus most of their attention on the initial response to these deadly events, the short- and- long-term recovery of victims and communities is often given less attention during planning, she said. That mindset needs to change.

“An incident lasts between two and five minutes, on average—recovery can last a lifetime, and I think that really needs to be the reminder and the emphasis,” Floyd said. “You will devote all of these resources and training hours and drills, as you should, to ending that threat quickly. I’m not negating that at all, but an equal amount of attention needs to be paid to recovery.”

Over the past 18 months, Floyd has worked at the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, where she is focused on helping public and non-profit entities across the country, especially emergency managers, develop pre-incident victim-centric plans for responding to and recovering from mass-shooting events.

In a wide-ranging interview with NFPA Journal, Floyd discussed the scope of what recovery from a mass shooting entails for victims, what more we need to learn, and what she learned from her own encounter in the immediate aftermath of a violent shooting attack.

Recovery is such a big, vague term. Could you briefly go over what it entails in the context of a shooting or other mass violence events?

Recovery is a process. In the short term, it may mean setting up services for families to help them as they look for timely and accurate information about loved ones. Based on the incident, it could be having the coroner and teams of qualified individuals onsite for compassionate death notifications, and others ready to provide mental health counseling, healthcare, or even childcare.

Then, for the next days, weeks, and months, a lot of the focus is on what victims need to live their lives and function. How do you, after this incident is done, continue to function and move on with your new normal? You need people who can provide expertise to victims on IRS and tax policies, insurance benefits, Social Security and disability, and other related items. You are also going to need assistance for legal, travel, creditor, employee, or financial planning concerns. There are all of those little pieces of the equation that serve as both a roadmap and a kind helping hand.

There must be a whole host of things victims face that the public or responders might not immediately consider.

Yes. One of the things we see in these mass violence incidents are people who weren’t physically injured but are struggling to go back to work or to find new work afterward. It is very difficult to expect someone after they had been held hostage or been in an active shooter situation to pick up, turn around, and go right back to work. In the Napa shooting, the organization involved in the incident had to functionally shut down. How do you expect someone who may have been held hostage to apply for a job less than three months later and then go out and get it? So one of the big challenges is actually addressing the needs of those people who aren’t physically injured or impaired. How do we make sure that they adjust to their new normal and are supported even when they look just fine? How do we help their families, who were also affected by this event?

What do you see from being onsite in the aftermath of an incident that you can’t learn in a classroom?

You see how deeply people care and how much the community wants to come together and rally. You also see very well-intentioned individuals making decisions that sometimes are the right decisions and sometimes maybe not. That’s where we want lessons learned from resources like OVC’s mass violence toolkit and from NFPA 3000 to get into the hands of decision makers so they are ready when something like this happens, because you don’t want to repeat mistakes others have already made.

I imagine that no matter how well you train, nothing can simulate the real thing. It must be so chaotic, confusing, and difficult. That seems to underscore why a detailed and rehearsed recovery plan is essential.

So much of it is based on trust. You are going to have a plan, then the incident happens and a lot of things are going to go out the window, things are going to go wrong—classic “fog of war” stuff. But then you need to turn to your friend, and trust that they know what they are doing and that they have their piece covered and that they are going to do what’s right, and roll with that. So you know when someone says, “OK, we recommend that your first responders say X when encountering victims on the crime scene,” they are doing that because it’s based on best practices, on evidence, and because it is going to help everything in the long term. Recovery is going to start the second something happens, so we need it incorporated in the planning. Triage ends fast, cleanup is done, cameras turn off, and we have years ahead of us.

Given its importance, do you think we place enough attention on the recovery piece?

Certainly not. The challenge is that there is so much attention focused when the incident is happening and for a few days after. But when the cameras turn off, when the attention has dulled a bit, people are still picking up the pieces of their lives or in some cases still in the hospital, and we forget about it because it is not as shiny. If we paid more attention to the fact that this incident isn’t over in two hours or three days—for some, an incident might not be over for 15 years—then I think you would see the reallocation of certain resources. But it is hard, right? You are not going to roll a camera for years on every single person’s journey moving forward. But if we institutionalize and change our culture to say that we need to be looking at this from the very beginning, and it becomes part of the lexicon, then I do think we will see great strides and additional resources devoted to helping individuals and communities for as long as it is going to take them to get through this. This is a lot of what we put in NFPA 3000. Recovery is up front from the very beginning. It is one of the key pillars because recovery is the human element. It is also what’s going to drain your bank accounts and take a very long time.

In planning for recovery, what are the most important things that emergency managers, public safety agencies, and others need to consider?

You don’t want to walk into the notification center or walk onto the scene and be meeting your partners for the first time. Prior to incident, get to know your colleagues in other agencies. Get to know people who are going to show up to assist when an incident occurs. That consists of signing memorandums of understanding [MOUs] and agreements in advance, and working out details, such as “the Red Cross is going to fill these nine items if your city or state isn’t able to because of the magnitude of the event.” You also want to have detailed plans in place for setting up the types of services that will be immediately needed.

One of the goals of DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime is to get out there to communities in advance and say, “This is the checklist you should to be looking at, these are things you need to consider in advance.” We created our mass violence toolkit, available online for free, that has checklists for planning, response, and recovery, with sample MOUs to get those partnerships together in advance. You should be able to pull a plan off the shelf, have the current phone numbers and contact info, and be able to stand up what’s needed to provide trauma-informed care and to address people’s short- and long-term needs.

How does the creation of NFPA 3000 help that effort and aid communities in preparing for recovery?

As a national standard, it is something that is respected, recognized, and can be taken off the shelf and put in the hands of anyone from a local county treasurer to a state emergency planner to say, “Here is your blueprint, walk through these steps and, by the way, there are people that can help you do this.” OVC provides free training and technical assistance on its toolkit to nonprofits and public entities to help them plan and walk through the steps of the recovery phase. So to have a document like NFPA 3000 that already has so many best practices in it, to be able to hand that over and say, “This is everything you need to get started, and if you need additional assistance there are things at no cost to you to help you work through this,” I think that is the brilliance of it.

In your experience working with states and communities to review and help create their emergency plans, how would you categorize the preparation of jurisdictions?

States are generally really good at HAZMAT planning and really good at natural disaster planning. What we want to see happen is more planning on the man-made element side. Some do a pretty darn good job with it, but across the board you aren’t going to see that same level of attention to detail.

Why is it important for all states and communities to have plans in place for mass violence and active shooter events?

All you have to do is look at a map at the number of incidents that fall into the mass violence category. Let’s not bury our heads in the sand. Many states and jurisdictions do HAZMAT planning, mitigation planning, they run drills for tornadoes and hurricanes and the like, and they may sometimes run active shooter drills or school shooter drills. But in a lot of those drills, what I’ve seen is that the recovery training is optional. That’s where we have to say, “You have to plan for recovery because that is going to be the biggest part of your long-term efforts, the biggest part of your budget, and by the way, it’s going to greatly affect your first responders as well.”

The impact of these events on responders is another aspect of recover planning that doesn't seem to get much attention.

They have walked into scenes of horrific magnitude and have encountered the worst things they are ever going to see, smell, hear, and touch. They are human beings; no amount of planning prepares you to walk into an elementary school that has faced a semi-automatic weapon. So remember that our first responders are victims, too, and they also need to be considered in recovery planning.

JESSE ROMAN is associate editor of NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: NEWSCOM