Developing a PIO Support Program for Families During a Mass Casualty Event: An Interview with Cassidee Carlson

aurora movie family support

When a major event happens, such as a mass casualty incident, first responder agencies can be deluged by local, national — even international press… Not to mention social media. It can be an intense and intimidating experience for even the most seasoned of PR professionals.

But that same white-hot spotlight can also be shined on the families of the victims – an experience none have likely prepared for, and certainly nothing they should have to deal with when grieving the loss or injury of a loved one.

The tragedy of the Aurora Movie Theater shooting brought out the best in people: the service, response and compassion of the community. But it also fostered a new and innovative approach for how agencies can support these families during such times.

Join us for this recorded webinar, when Cassidee Carlson of the Aurora Police Department comes back to discuss:

  • Why the PIO Family Support Program was developed
  • And how any agency can replicate this kind of program for their community.

 

Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): This is a continuation of your previous webinar, “Crisis Communications During the Aurora Movie Theater Shooting.” Will people need to have attended that webinar in order to understand this one? 

Cassidee Carlson: No, you don’t need to have attended the first webinar. I will briefly go over some things so people will have a full understanding of the new topic that will be presented.

 

~~~~~

It came down to trying to provide the space to the families

so they could properly grieve

and be able to deal with the unimaginable sudden loss that they faced.  

~~~~~

 
JCH: This was a fairly innovative idea for the time. What prompted the idea behind this program? How did you come up with it? Have you seen other mass casualty incidents use this concept?

Cassidee: I actually cover how this idea came about in the presentation, but it really came down to the fact that I knew how my world was being turned upside down by media interest in this horrific case, and I was not simultaneously dealing with the loss of a loved one. I knew the families of the victims were going to get just as many calls from media that we were but we are the professionals who get paid to deal with the media and have training and experience to handle incidents like this. It came down to trying to provide the space to the families so they could properly grieve and be able to deal with the unimaginable sudden loss that they faced.  

 

 

JCH: Some might say that this really isn’t law enforcement’s “job” to provide this kind of PIO assistance to victim’s families. Why is it important to support the families of the victims in this way?

Cassidee: Our agency places a strong emphasis on victims and doing what we can to support victims.  We have a very robust and well-respected Victim Services Unit and a strong organizational culture to put victims first. I think because of the training I have received and the compassionate culture of the agency, it was really no surprise that I wanted to make sure the victim's families were taken care of. Prior to the Family PIO Liaison Program being initiated, each of the victim's families had immediately been assigned a Victim Advocate.  

 

~~~~~

When faced with that amount of stress

you go to what you have trained on and draw from your past experiences

and somehow you make it through by just taking it a little bit at a time.

~~~~~

 

JCH: You served as PIO for the Aurora Police Department during a very challenging time. What are some lessons you’ve learned from this unique experience that you have carried with you to your new assignment?

Cassidee: I have been in Law Enforcement for 15 years. I have had a very diverse and overall very fun and rewarding career. I have had many great opportunities and a variety of assignments. One assignment that I never imagined doing was PIO. In fact when I was approached about this role I sought the advice of my mentors and gave it a lot of thought because I was not sure this would be something I would enjoy for a variety of reasons, one of which is being removed from the daily police functions. 

This assignment was one of the best things I have ever done as far as professional development. Being in this role, I started to look at things through a different lens.  It gave me an overall perspective of things that I have taken with me in other roles.  I was the PIO for a little over 3 years and benefited greatly from my time in the unit.   

It is hard to put into words how being involved with the Theater Shooting has affected me.  One thing I learned is that when faced with that amount of stress you go to what you have trained on and draw from your past experiences and somehow you make it through by just taking it a little bit at a time.  You cannot possibly do it all yourself, so do what you can and then seek assistance, there is no shame in that.  I think no matter what your role in an experience like this you learn the true test of resiliency; resiliency of yourself, your agency and your community.

 

 Click Here to Watch Developing a PIO Support Program for Families During Mass Casualty Events.

 

 

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