Are You Ready to Recover?

Every campus needs to be prepared to help affected people recover from the emotional trauma of mass casualty events. A well-prepared crisis recovery plan will lay the groundwork for these efforts.

With the generous permission of recovery and incident support specialist Sony Shepherd, I have taken a longer document she authored and adapted it for use in this column.

A recovery plan is a key part of the four phase crisis planning process. The plan should be based on the recovery model selected by the organization (there are three American based models and widely recognized models in use internationally).

Every plan should be designed to ensure the continuation of vital emotional and cognitive processes in the event a disaster occurs or a major crisis event affects the psyche of clients, employees and their family members. The crisis recovery plan can assist the organization in providing effective emotional health services that can be used to help individuals recover and provide procedures to handle emergency situations that may have an emotional impact on people. It also prepares crisis team members to respond effectively in a crisis; manages the crisis recovery activities in an organized and effective manner; and limits the emotional impact of any crisis.

Should an emergency occur, the organization’s recovery efforts should be tailored to provide an effective method that can be used by crisis team members to control all activities associated with the crisis situation. Recovery efforts should be proactive and lessen the potential negative impact with the media and the community at large. A proper plan includes documentation for each responsibility; procedures and checklists that will be used to manage and control the situation following an emergency or crisis; and forms that will be used to document activities.

In any event, your recovery plan is one element of developing a strategy. The plan’s success, however, depends on:

  • Implementation of the recommendations made by a group of local experts to include community mental health officials, emergency management personnel and public health representatives: It is essential to commit to implementing all recommendations and strategies identified in the recovery plan, otherwise investments made in its preparation will be redundant. Similarly, training and awareness must be completed to ensure the entire campus community is confident and competent in implementing the plan.


  • A training program for those directly involved in the execution of the plan: All parties must appreciate the importance of the recovery plan to the operation’s survival and their role in this process. The American Red Cross, International Critical Incident Stress Foundation and the National Organization for Victim’s Assistance all offer training on their recovery models.


  • An education and awareness program to ensure district-wide understanding and adoption of the plan, covering internal and external stakeholders, i.e. employees, patients, students and relatives of victims: This awareness should extend to parents and other stakeholders upon whom the organization depends or has influence in both normal and crisis operations.


  • Annual plan updates: The plan should be updated annually, exercised and should always be readily available to authorized personnel.

Because many people do not see themselves as needing mental health services following a disaster and will not seek out such services, a traditional, office-based approach to providing services has proven ineffective in a disaster. Campus mental health responders must actively seek out those impacted by the disaster. Responders must also avoid the use of terminology generally associated with traditional mental health services, including such terms as diagnosis, therapy or treatment.

Campus organizations that lack a written recovery plan and a trained team are not properly prepared to address the deep emotional needs of patients, students, staff and the family members of victims. Does your organization have a plan for recovery? If not, now is an excellent time to develop one.

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An internationally recognized authority on campus safety and the author of 19 books on the topic, Michael Dorn is the senior public safety and emergency management analyst for Jane’s Consultancy. Dorn, a member of the Campus Safety Advisory Council, works with a team of campus safety experts to make campuses safer around the globe through Jane’s offices in nine countries. He can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Author


Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at [email protected] Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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