Long-term care

The long-term care for those affected by an active shooter or bomber may take a while. It is important to realize that delayed effects from the incident could occur immediately, or they could occur days, months, or even years later. In the first weeks, and possibly even months after the incident, victims and family members may need additional help. They may need:

  • Help maintaining lawns, homes, gardens, or business
  • Meals (video of someone delivering a meal)
  • A 24-hour watch to care for emotional and spiritual needs
  • Counselling provided or arranged

 In the long and the short-term, church volunteers and leadership should also watch for warning signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD. These signs can include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Reliving the trauma over and over
  • Physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
  • Bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts
  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable
  • Having trouble remembering the event.
  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Obsessing on why they lived, while others died
  • Feeling distanced from spouse or children
  • Crying for no known reason. or uncontrollable crying
  • Drinking, taking pain killers, or using drugs
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Dwelling on the incident

If you or someone that was present during the incident suffers from these effects, DO NOT ignore them.

The longer you allow them to go unchecked, the harder it might be to correct these issues. If signs of PTSD are seen, you and your aftercare team should:

  • Pray
  • Seek out help from a mental health professional specializing in PTSD
  • Seek out help from clergy

While I am a firm believer in the power of prayer, prayer should not delay mental health involvement; it should be done in conjunction with notifying a mental health professional.

While prayer is important, it is also important to note that you should not share any individual’s mental difficulties without their permission. It is fine to say they need prayer, but specific details should not be given. You should also realize that in many instances, due to the nature of the problem, many members of the clergy may not be equipped to handle the seriousness of the issues the victim faces. Clergy may refer you to some of these individuals to a PTSD specialist. For clergy members, they should realize (early on) if they are not equipped to help the individual. Clergy should NEVER delay getting professional help when signs of PTSD are seen.

The after-effects of an active shooter situation will likely have:

  • Long term effects
  • Short term effects
  • Be intermittent
  • Be constant

It will be a sprint in the beginning, it will be a marathon in the larger picture. For the Marathon, you should consider putting together a volunteer team that:

  • Undertakes long-term monitoring
  • Ensures long-term mental healthcare
  • Meets the physical needs
  • Will identify and arrange professional help for those who may be having issues

This team could prevent unnecessary suffering, and potentially even prevent a suicide. Our churches should have a commitment to these individuals because:

  • This is the Christian thing to do!
  • This is also the right and prudent thing to do!

In closing, I wanted to say that there will be changes to the blog in the near future. I will discuss these changes in tomorrow’s blog, and the reason we are making these changes. Until then, … Mark

After the incident is over: Short-term family care

I have been discussing a long list of things that will need to be done after an incident occurs in your church. Another consideration that every church should think about, especially in the immediate hours after a shooting (or bombing), would be to notify and help the families of those injured and killed.

Notifying families about the demise of their loved one will likely be done in conjunction with law enforcement. The list that you made in the initial aftermath, which identified the injured and deceased, should assist you in this task. It is important to ensure that not only are you present for the notification, but that you take a specific volunteer that will be a point of contact for this family member. This point of contact will be responsible for ensuring that their needs are met from the time of the notification forward.

While we may be in mourning for those killed, we need to remember that the living are still with us, and they will have needs. They will usually need support to get through this difficult time. They may even need mental health intervention, which your point of contact will be able to identify and request through your volunteer network. A critical aspect of care is to work with mental health professionals and public safety, to provide critical incident stress debriefings in the first 72-hours after an incident.

A critical incident stress debriefing helps individuals to share what they feel, or what they felt during the attack. This can help to reduce the long-term psychological effects of what they saw and felt during the attack, as well as the guilt that can come afterwards.

While not a mandatory task of the church, consideration should be given to helping those injured and killed as well as their family members immediately after an incident. They may need assistance with:

  • Arranging transportation
  • Taking care of the children, elderly, the disabled, or pets.
  • Providing emotional support
  • Provide a 24-hour watch (with, or over, certain individuals.)

It is extremely important to evaluate the immediate support needs in the first 2-6 hours after they have been notified, and evaluate the family’s short-term needs in the first 24-hours.  In providing help to these family members, you show Gods love. To accomplish these tasks, your church or another church may need to find some willing volunteers to take on the responsibilities of caring for these families. In all likelihood, it will take a cadre of volunteers to meet the list of needs for everyone affected.

Your point of contact volunteer should initially be used to identify the needs of the victims and their family members, then to arrange a support system for them through the cadre of volunteers.  Some individuals may just need checked once or twice per day, while others may need 24-hour around the clock care. As we check on these individuals, we need to assess their psychological state. If they seem psychologically unstable, or they seem to be in depressed, suicidal, or there are other concerns, you should immediately take action. In order to take care of their needs  after an incident, it may require a lot of volunteers and professionals. Prior to an incident ever occurring, the church should talk with, and make agreements with, individuals that may be needed after an incident occurs. This may include:

  • Cadre of Clergy
  • Cadre of Mental Health providers
  • Cadre of medical professionals
  • Cadre of Social Workers
  • Trained advocates

It is important that these individuals get the help they need in the immediate hours after the incident. When these people need help, they typically need it right away. By having pre-identified individuals who can step up, the help can come quickly, rather than waiting hours to locate someone with a certain specialty. Pre-identifying clergy and mental health providers trained in grief counselling, prior to an incident, can significantly reduce stress, and it can reduce the time it takes to help those that are hurting.

Tomorrow, I will discuss long-term care of those that were affected by a shooting or bombing in a church. Until then, … Mark

Calling others for help

In instances where your church has been the victim of an active shooter or bomber, it is important to remember that key individuals may have been injured or killed. Without these individuals in place, it may lead to gaps in the operations of the church, when it is needed most. In a government setting, this would be referred to as a gap in continuity of operations.

Continuity of operations refers to the ability of the church to carry on with it’s primary mission. After a shooting or bombing, the primary mission will likely be to spiritually and emotionally care for those that were affected by this shooting, including family members and the victims themselves.

One of the key factors to address the barrage of issues is to take inventory of who is missing, deceased, and/or incapacitated from fulfilling their duties. This is done through:

  • Identifying and filling any critical personnel gaps
  • Identify operational gaps (e.g. comforting, counselling, )
  • Identifying Public Information Officer (PIO) gaps
  • Identifying gaps in caregiver groups and/or volunteers

Many different issues will need to be dealt with in the aftermath of an active shooter or bombing in a church. In order to respond to the work ahead, you will need to make sure that there are enough resources to deal with parishioners, their family members, and the media, just to name a few.

If you find that your church resources may be overwhelmed, you may need to reach out to:

  • Denomination headquarters
  • Other local clergy members
  • Other local churches
  • Local schools
  • Local county health organizations
  • Local advocacy groups
  • Professional media spokesperson

No matter what, it is important to realize that this is a very hectic and ominous time. There is no shame in asking for help! In a perfect world, we would pre-arrange whatever help might be needed in advance, and pre-load these numbers in our phones and document those numbers in our paperwork that helps us to take roll call. If we fail to do this in advance of an incident, we will need to fly by the seat of our pants, and make judgments on who should be called while under duress. In my opinion, it is always better to prepare and not need it, rather than need something and not be able to figure out what to do.

We need to remember that many hands make light work. We also need to remember that everyone that was present during this heinous act will need time to process everything. This extra help, will help those present at the incident to focus on themselves rather than focusing on others, and then later having a break-down.

We will continue this short series tomorrow. Until then, mull over a list of individuals that you may need to reach out to, should something like this happen in your church, … Mark