After the Emergency Notification: Caring for Your Community After Mass Violence

After the Emergency Notification:
Caring for Your Community After Mass Violence

Author: Abigail Boyer, associate executive director, Clery Center

Recently I had the privilege of serving on a panel on Best Practices in School Response and Recovery at the National Mass Violence Center’s 2024 National Summit: Fundamentals of Mass Violence Preparedness, Response, Recovery, and Resilience. Full of moving and inspiring speakers, it caused me to reflect on the needs of higher education in particular.

The Clery Act was amended in 2008 following the mass violence incident at Virginia Tech. As a result, it includes specific policy provisions for emergency notification, including:

  • information on how an institution confirms an emergency,
  • how and whether they segment communications, and
  • processes for developing content, initiating an alert, and communicating with the larger community.

It also establishes annual test of these policies and procedures. These actions are critical — and they are not enough.

During a panel on The Power of Personal Story, survivors of mass violence incidents and a family member who lost a loved one to such an incident, highlighted the support they needed — and often did not receive — in the aftermath of such violence. This included lack of coordination amongst emergency personnel, lack of culturally responsive resources, and lack of trauma-informed approaches. They emphasized the need to “listen first to the victims” who are in the best position to communicate their needs, the importance of transparency about what to expect and the resources available, and the importance of community to challenges the loneliness and isolation many survivors experience. As one survivor said, “If you deny my experience, you deny my existence.”

They also noted that marginalized communities already often don’t have a voice, so it’s critical to build relationships before an incident ever occurs. They highlighted key examples of trauma-informed services, recognizing that every incident should be treated as unique and that oftentimes outreach is needed to find the survivors – they won’t always know where to go or what to do. They encouraged the audience to not only listen to survivor voices, but to sit in discomfort and accept both negative and positive responses as an opportunity for learning.

Other panels also offered some best practices in mass violence preparation, response, and recovery, and resources that can help communities plan in advance for how they will support survivors and other community members if violence occurs. Such resources include:

It is imperative to remember that response efforts are just the beginning. True recovery requires a long-term commitment to listening, learning, and evolving. As you continue to develop and refine your Emergency Operations Plan, be sure to prioritize building strong, empathetic relationships and creating an environment where every survivor feels seen, heard, and supported. The journey from response to recovery is a shared responsibility, and together, we can foster resilience and hope in the face of adversity.

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