THE BLOG
03/13/2014 09:47 am ET Updated May 13, 2014

While Waiting for the Plane to Be Found and Other Considerations

When planes fall out of the sky and bombs go off at gatherings and children are shot at school and camp there is an appeal for disaster emotional and spiritual care.

Some considerations for our emotional and spiritual health:

1) Stop repeated broadcasts of the Boston Marathon bombs going off. Yes, it's the money shot, but why sacrifice humanity for maximum impact?
2) Manage your exposure to network news and social media covering the current Malaysian Air incident and those in your care. Accurate news and other information may take a very long time.
3) Stay away from Boston for the first anniversary of the bombing. Remember the casualties and their loved ones from where you are. Give the runners and marathon volunteers' privacy to remember as well as celebrate human resilience and courage. Are you going to Boston for "them," or are you going for "you."
4) Never compare disasters. What worked in Newtown -- staying away -- was about what the families wanted on the first anniversary. Listen to the immediate families of those lost. Do not distract from their grieving, memories and recovery.
5) Do not publicize the perpetrator. Do not give them mass repeated coverage and ignore the victims. Put the victims on the cover, not the criminal or insane.
6) Do not glamorize criminal behavior and contribute to a false mythology.
7) Honor and remember the victims and their loved ones. Listen to the families.
8) Do not become addicted to disaster porn. Yes, that's what it is; repeated viewing is perhaps only for the investigators.
9) Watch for other casualties of disasters -- those that come months and years later. There will be many who may be seeking emotional and spiritual help.
10) Go later if you must to pay your respects or help preparedness efforts in your own home and community, when a space for the families and general public has been designed and built.

Family disaster assistance in the United States was revolutionized following the repeated air disasters in the 1990s, particularly TWA 800, in 1996. Families demanded accurate and timely information as well as protection from countless media and do-gooders who wished to "help them." Many were not disaster trained or versed in the complex emotional and spiritual dynamics from a mass casualty air crash.

Terrorism and other human-caused disasters -- mass murders, school and mall shootings -- as well as natural disasters -- Hurricane Katrina et al, also revealed the need for a collaborative response between emergency management, government and the public.

Just last week the Norwegian Memorial for the mass murder of children at summer camp was revealed: after almost three years and countless input by families and loved ones a "Wounded Landscape" Memorial overlooking Utoya, for the stream of visitors, including families and loved ones, who organize pilgrimages to grieve and celebrate, to remember those lost as well as those profoundly impacted by the crime. The families gather on the anniversary in a nearby inn. There is a place for them. Last summer, I saw what one initially might perceive as callous neighbors blocking driveways that overlooked Utoya, the island camp, to prevent the curious and the intruders who left symbols of their own grief that impeded public safety. This is their home. It is more than the scene of unimaginable crime.

Why should we care? We are human and we have a strong moral sense of right and wrong, of justice and mercy, that may come from a faith tradition or a strong family system. We try to understand the motivation for these acts and, after the shock and trauma, the cost of making sure these events never occur again. But they do.

There is a connection between many of these horrors that are revealed as part of the investigations conducted so thoroughly and meticulously by government and academia. The Newtown killer was inspired by the body count of the Norwegian assassin. Infamy inspired copycat murders. But we may never really know why.

"Keep Norway white and blonde" may be too simple an explanation.

Today we are well served in America by the National Transportation Safety Board and countless government and non-governmental responders to these horrific air crashes. Domestic air travel has become safer too since the September 11th attacks on our nation. There is a well-defined plan for family assistance for transportation disasters.

Preparedness is a billion-dollar industry that helps mediate the impact of future events by lessons learned from past events. Rapid response is imperative so trauma is not compounded by inadequately trained assistance. The family meetings in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur are stark examples of what occurs when a plan for family disaster assistance does not exist.

What might help?

1) Set up a Family Assistance Center immediately at the departure and destination airports -- identify family members and a provide a private place for them to gather for immediate updates on rescue and recovery.
2) Staff the Center with well-trained personnel who are disaster-trained and know what might occur during all phases of a disaster -- immediate, intermediate and long-term -- and insure that the airline and all responding agencies are under incident command and know their roles. Make sure it is staffed with health, mental health and spiritual care professionals who know who to deal with catastrophic death.
3) Protect the families -- secure the perimeter of the site and let families know when regular information will be given. Do not allow media access to those directly impacted. "How does it feel to lose a loved one in an air crash?" Think about it. Common sense and the golden rule apply.
4) Anticipate the vulnerabilities. Normal cognitive functioning is not possible after a sudden catastrophic incident. Culture and religion, the psychosocial, education and experience, all may factor into an assessment of needs and a response. Then, everything may change in the next minute.
5) When will I get to see where my loved one died? When will I be able to get my loved one returned for commemoration and burial? Sometimes there are no immediate answers. There will always be questions.