Reception Centers: Meeting Friends, Relatives, and All Survivors During Critical Times
Written by: Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D.
July 6, 2022
Jeff Morgan, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation hosted the first of the FAERF’s Institute Summer Webinar Series, where seventy members/partners throughout the globe tuned in. The webinar was highly interactive as Jeff involved the participants in a number of polls where they were able to weigh in on major questions he asked to make many of the teaching points. This week’s article will summarize highlights from Jeff’s presentation which pertained to the Family & Friends Reception Center (FFRC) and part two in the next article will cover the Survivor Assistance Center, Reunification Center and the Family Assistance Center (FAC).
Topics presented in the webinar were as follows:
What are Reception Centers?
What is the purpose of a Reception Center?
How quickly should Reception Centers be set up?
How long should Reception Centers be in operation?
Reception Center versus Family Assistance Centers
After a brief overview of the session, Jeff identified the types of Reception Centers as being 1) Family & Friends; 2) Survivors; 3) Reunification. Family & Friends Reception Center is defined by Jeff as a place near the location of a traumatic event where family members and friends can gather to receive crucial assistance.
Family & Friends Reception Center (FFRC)
Participants were asked to list types of services that might be offered at the Family & Friends Reception Center (FFRC). While many suggestions were offered, information was the most prevalent choice suggested by the group. Other suggestions included food and drink, money, practical assistance (transportation, etc.), counseling, spiritual care, and medical assistance.
During the discussion about services that might be offered to friends and families, it was pointed out that the actual rank order of the services needed is situationally driven. For example, while many may wish to have food and drink as they are waiting for information, should a person suddenly experience a medical need, having paramedics, nurses or other medically trained professionals may be their next priority, after information. Similarly, while a family member might wish to speak to a mental health counselor, a person who is looking to pray might feel more comfortable when provided spiritual support.
Experience has shown that having multiple services available proves to be the best practice, keeping in mind that information is the main reason that friends and family enter a reception center. This need for immediate information underlies the next question about how quickly the center should be set up and open to the public. Most of the participants voted for 1-2 hours, or as quickly as possible in order to accomplish the critical functions of this center.
Critical Functions of the FFRC
Discussion about critical functions of the center pertained to staffing; registration & credentialing; information intake & management; communication with families; support available in the center and exit strategies. These strategies are consistent with the next phase in the response for specific families and friends.
Staffing, Registration, and Credentialing
Registering friends and families as they enter the room is important to begin the information-sharing process. It also gets them out of the reach of the press and makes it possible for family members and friends to gather in a location where they can support each other. Interviews with survivors reveal that even in the early hours following a tragedy, families and friends begin to exchange details with one another, and many relationships are begun that last a lifetime. When families and friends group together as they will, this early bonding allows them to care for each other in a natural way and relieves some of the pressure on staff—which is often limited in numbers.
Registering people at the entrance is necessary to provide them with details about their loved one as soon as it becomes available. Essential information would include a family member’s name, the name and relationship of the person they are looking for, and their cell phone number. Obtaining basic information from a family member allows them to enter the FFRC, be seated and once inside, provide other needed details.
Having adequate staffing is a key point in this part of the process and is the reason that many airports for example, include volunteer responders from local agencies as well as other airport employees to participate in their exercises and drills. This participation prepares the airport to offer greater assistance to the anxious public.
Today there are many creative ways that families and friends can be registered quickly at the door, and allowed to enter, having provided only basic information. Many groups are using QR codes for registration or badging programs. The important teaching point here is that those who are establishing an FFRC should think ahead about an efficient way to register those who enter.
Communicating with Families in the FFRC
Supporting friends and families, effectively, while they wait for information about their loved ones involves as many people as can be comfortably trained and exercised—even if they are briefed at the last minute about how they can help the leadership team serve the public.
Too often the awaiting public is provided information and updates in a dramatic fashion where one person comes into the room and gives devastating news. At the Foundation, we advocate providing a briefing sheet or “Talking Points” to every member of staff, including local volunteers.
The talking points will never include confidential information about an individual but can be a very important tool in allowing family members to have a better understanding of the process that is underway in the first few hours of a response when few facts are known about an individual victim. Information that is known about the trauma, i.e., “A shooting has occurred at the XYZ plant,” “A passenger train has derailed at XYZ location,” “A (company) aircraft landing at XYZ Airport was involved in an accident,” can be provided, as this news is already being broadcast by the press and alerted the family member to the crisis.
This type of factual information can be quickly updated and shared with the awaiting families and friends along with facts about what is happening at the scene, i.e. “Rescue personnel are on the scene and will report on each of those involved as soon as people can be accounted for,” “Police are on the scene now, and the shooting has been stopped,” “Firefighters are on the scene and the fire has now been contained.” This simple, factual information helps an anxious person get a better picture of what is happening and is superior to saying “We have no information at the present time.”
Utilizing the “talking points” approach allows all who come to help during the early phase of the response to assist and increases the connection between helpers and the families. Nervous, frightened family members find it helpful to have someone to talk with about their fears.
In the webinar poll, most people agreed that this center should be shut down within a few hours and up to one day. This allows the awaiting family members to move along as information continues to come in and the process unfolds. Hopefully within 2-4 hours, many will have learned their loved one is not involved and left the center. But for those who are still waiting, the team will endeavor to move them to the Reunification Center where they are reunited with survivors, an area hospital where their loved one has been taken, or the Family Assistance Center (FAC). For those family members whose loved ones remain unaccounted for, the FAC will be the best place for them to continue waiting for information and reunification.
The next article will cover information from the webinar about the Reunification Center, Survivor Reception Center, and the Family Assistance Center (FAC).
From the Foundation
Information about the Summer Webinar Series can be found on our website!