An assistance center must be inclusive, assuring that the needs of the whole community are met. This may include but is not limited to: persons with disabilities, persons with limited English proficiency and persons of various religious and cultural backgrounds. Please see the Social Services That May Be Required document in the Attachments section of this guide.
In their 2011 document A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines the whole community concept and its implications for emergency planning and response. Users of this guide are encouraged to reference FEMA’s document and determine the best ways to engage stakeholders in their community.
Whole Community is a philosophical approach in how to conduct the business of emergency management. Benefits include:
Shared understanding of community needs and capabilities
Greater empowerment and integration of resources from across the community
A stronger social infrastructure
Establishment of relationships that facilitate more effective prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery activities
Increased individual and collective preparedness
The purpose of this annex is to provide guidance for reunification operations that may become necessary as a result of a disaster or emergency.
Reunification between a survivor and loved ones can occur at a variety of physical locations, including at the incident scene, in a hospital, at home or at a designated center.
This annex will address reunification at a Survivor Center or Friends and Relatives Center. A Survivor Center is a place where those surviving the disaster may go immediately following the disaster. Depending on the type of event, friends and relatives may be directed to go to the Survivor Center for reunification; or they may be directed to another location, a Friends and Relatives Center. In this case, the survivors would be brought to this site. The purpose of either location is reunification.
Reunification refers to a process.
In the context of reunification, the term relative is broadened to be more inclusive and can include life partners, stepparents, stepsiblings, close friends, and clergy.
Reunification can occur following a mass casualty (large number of injured persons) or mass fatality (large number of deaths) incident.
Every incident and jurisdiction will be different when and where this occurs.
Coordinate with local and regional partners to provide support services for survivors and their friends and families.
Coordinate with Incident Command and the Medical Examiner to determine if/when to shift operations from reunification to family assistance.
Coordinate personnel resources to staff non-leadership positions.
Other Agency Responsibilities
While the primary functions during a mass fatality or casualty incident are family assistance and victim identification, another important function is that of reunification. Often occurring first at the incident site and then transitioning to a separate – but often geographically close – location (Survivor Center or Friends and Relatives Center). Reunification is the process of reconnecting those affected and displaced with their loved ones (both family and friends).
Reunification efforts should focus on:
Reunifying persons affected by or involved in a disaster or emergency incident with loved ones (friends and family) in a thoughtful and timely manner and with concern for those who are still searching;
Providing supportive services in a safe location while friends and family are waiting for information.
Reunification operations occur in the Operations Section under the Incident Command System. Depending on the type of incident, reunification will either have its own branch or occur as a function of the Family Assistance Center (FAC).
The Logistics, Planning and Finance/Administration Sections in Incident Command can assign staff to the site as appropriate. These staff members DO NOT take their direction and control from the Branch Director or Group/Division Supervisor. Direction and control comes from their respective leadership at Incident Command.
An example incident command organization structure is included in the attachments section of this document.