B. Actions Immediately after the Terrorist Attack
Good Practice 4: Develop a multidisciplinary crisis response team that includes victim assistance professionals.
If the State has an existing terrorism victim assistance unit, its members can work directly with first responders, law enforcement, victims’ associations and other elements of civil society in the immediate aftermath of an attack as part of a crisis response team. The crisis response team should be established in advance and should train together regularly. The crisis response team should try to access the scene of the attack as soon as possible. Victim assistance professionals should contact victims as soon as security and medical condition allow. The crisis response team can designate a member to provide information to victims and the families of those who are injured, killed, missing, or kidnapped. Information should be conveyed to victims and their families clearly and accurately. Victims’ first interaction with State officials sets the tone for all of their subsequent encounters, and can enhance public perception of State responsiveness.
Good Practice 5: Develop a victim list containing identity and contact information.
The victim assistance professionals should work with the crisis response team and law enforcement to compile a victim list containing identity and contact information. The list should include victims and family members. The list should be updated and confirmed throughout the intervention process. It is helpful to have pre-existing arrangements with other institutions such as non-governmental emergency response entities (such as Red Cross/Crescent) and medical providers (such as hospitals) to encourage the timely sharing of victim contact information. In cases of multiple coordinated attack sites, maintaining a master list of all victims is helpful. Adequate statistical data collection is an essential component in this context to develop strategies aimed at assisting victims.
Good Practice 6: Protect victims’ privacy and confidentiality.
States should protect victim information consistent with national law.3 When victims provide information to the State, they should be informed of the potential uses of that information, who will have access to it, and whether it is likely to become public, and that they might be called to testify in court. To ensure victim safety, States should make every effort to protect contact information. More sensitive information such as medical, emotional, or mental health status should also be safeguarded from public disclosure to the extent possible.
Good Practice 7: Establish accessible crisis services.
In the immediate aftermath of an attack, it may be helpful for State victim assistance professionals to proactively identify victims and assess their needs. A hotline can be established to communicate with victims, and information about it should be provided to them. Victim professionals may want to explore and implement other forms of communication, such as websites, social media, and text messaging.
It is a good practice to set up a receiving area close to the scene of the attack to receive friends and family members who are searching for victims. It is also helpful to establish information areas at local hospitals for injured victims and their families. These initial efforts may be transitioned into a centralized location to gather and obtain information, identify victims, provide emotional support, distribute basic necessities, deliver accurate information to families through organized briefings, and collect ante-mortem data. The location may be in a hotel, school, government building, trauma center, or other suitable facility.
Victim assistance professionals, in collaboration with relevant civil society organizations, including victims’ associations, as appropriate, can provide emotional support to victims at a central location and through any other communication system, such as a hotline. It is helpful for the professionals to be trained with a consistent model that establishes a coordinated approach to victims from the same incident. Victim assistance professionals should listen to and address the emotions and feelings of victims, expressing assurance and emotional support and seeking to alleviate the victims’ confusion and disorientation. Some recommended techniques for emotional support include appropriate physical location, active listening, clear and direct information, and, where possible, physical proximity.
To the extent possible and depending on available resources, victims can be provided with basic survival benefits including temporary accommodation, food, and transport. These services foster the normalization process, can reduce victims’ insecurity, and facilitate victim interaction with law enforcement investigators. Provision of such benefits to victims should not depend on cooperation with law enforcement investigators. Victims should in any case be encouraged to be cooperative with law enforcement and informed of the importance of preserving anything of evidentiary value including documentation of the medical, social, psychological, and other consequences of the attack.
Support services to victims should take into consideration any unique victim characteristics that may limit accessibility. For example, services provided to child victims should be tailored to meet children’s emotional and cognitive developmental capacity.
In the acute crisis stage, the State should focus attention on immediate victim needs and requests, addressing them in an orderly and prompt manner, and avoid burdening victims with elaborate administrative information that goes beyond what is strictly necessary during the emergency. The information provided should not in any case hinder the course of the investigations carried out by the law enforcement authorities.
Good Practice 8: Provide information about and support in dealing with the media.
Victims should have the choice whether to speak with the media. Some victims may not want any contact with the media, while other victims may want to speak with the media directly or provide information through a family member, friend, or other spokesperson. It is recommended that States provide victims with information to help them make an informed choice about whether to speak to the media directly, through a spokesperson, or at all. It is further recommended that victims receive information about options to lessen any possible additional trauma by setting limits on interviews or by releasing written statements.4 As the investigation continues and during any criminal justice proceedings, victims should be shielded from unwanted intrusions while also being assisted with media contact for those interested. States could provide or facilitate the training of media through stakeholders or representatives of victims’ associations to help avoid revictimization of victims of terrorism.
It is recommended that the State develop a mechanism to get significant case information to victims and families before they hear it through the media. To the extent possible, victims should be informed in advance of press conferences and briefings so they can be prepared for media outreach or avoid reading or watching the media.
3 In other contexts, states have recognized the importance of State efforts to protect crime victims’ privacy. See, e.g., United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, art.6.1, Dec. 15, 2000, 2237 U.N.T.S. 319, Annex II [hereinafter Trafficking in Persons Protocol] (“In appropriate cases and to the extent possible under its domestic law, each State Party shall protect the privacy and identity of victims of trafficking in persons . . . .”). 4 In another context, states have recognized the importance of protecting crime victims from experiencing additional victimization. See Trafficking in Persons Protocol, art. 9.1(b) (“State Parties shall establish comprehensive policies, programmes and other measures … [t]o protect victims of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, from revictimization.”)