Chapter IX
Policy Recommendations

nfortunately, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was not the last act of terrorism involving Americans. It was followed by the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers United States military barracks in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombing of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the murders of two Americans as part of a terrorist attack in Uganda. Lessons were learned in response to these acts of terrorism along with those drawn from the trial of two Libyans charged with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Lessons from these later experiences in addition to those from the Oklahoma City bombing combine to frame a more complete and informed set of policy recommendations about responding to victims of terrorism.

State and Local Victim Assistance

Recommendation 1

State and local authorities developing domestic emergency response plans should consider applicable legal requirements regarding the rights of crime victims and should include victim services representatives in planning and testing response protocols.

Discussion
A number of efforts are ongoing involving federal, state, and local authorities to ensure that communities are in position to respond to terrorism. State and local agencies should identify victim compensation and assistance resources available at the local, state, and federal levels to assist in responding to acts of terrorism. OVC is working with the Office for State and Local Domestic Preparedness Support (OSLDPS) to coordinate the development of training and other tools focused on assisting victims. In addition, OVC and the U.S. Department of State have been working with an interagency task force to develop protocols for responding to victims of terrorism that occurs outside the borders of the United States.

Recommendation 2

Whenever possible, responding agencies should take steps to avoid unnecessary delays in death notification and the release of victim remains to families and to handle notification in a sensitive manner.

Discussion
The processes of recovery and identification of remains may be extremely difficult and prolonged in terrorism crimes with mass casualties. Evidence has to be gathered for the investigation and may further delay the process, causing frustration and anger on the part of grieving families. The guiding principle should be to provide as much information as possible without jeopardizing either the accuracy of the identification or the evidence-gathering process. Death notification should be handled by professionals with training and experience. Whenever possible, surviving families should be consulted and their wishes honored concerning issues including whether to view the remains of their loved ones, how to inter human tissue that cannot be identified, and the timing of official ceremonies and memorial services.

Recommendation 3

In the immediate aftermath of a terrorism disaster, local officials should consider establishing a centralized "compassion center" where victims can go for information, crisis counseling, and privacy.

Discussion
In addition to addressing comfort and privacy needs of victim families, officials need to be able to quickly reach families to obtain critical information necessary for identification and handling of remains and for the investigation. The creation of a victim information center may have benefits for both victims and responding agencies.

Recommendation 4

Mental health services should be made available in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist act, and plans should be made for assessment and long-term provision of services for victims and responders.

Discussion
The response of mental health providers to terrorism victims and responders incorporates the following points:

  • Service providers should be screened, trained, and certified in the provision of mental health services to victims of human-caused disasters.

  • Mental health services should be culturally sensitive and address diverse needs, beliefs, and lifestyles of all affected victims.

  • Mental health services should provide for immediate needs and long-term needs. Immediate needs may include services provided by a trained counselor or chaplain during death notification at a hospital or at a compassion center whereas long-term needs may be served at a special, nontraditional counseling center for victims.

  • Crime victims compensation programs should have guidelines for funding mental health services and should make the process as simple and accessible as possible.

The Office for Victims of Crime and the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are working together to develop materials and training for community mental health providers about the impact of victimization and effective models for treating victims and responders. Experience with violent victimization and terrorist incidents have shown that mental health services need to be in place for years, especially if the criminal justice process is ongoing. States should allocate funding for these services and maximize public and private resources for providing mental health services.

Recommendation 5

Application requirements and processing of crime victim compensation and other types of services should be streamlined and simplified for victims to reduce the burden on victims and to ensure that the process is victim friendly, that assistance is timely, that paperwork is minimal, and that agencies work together and share information.

Discussion
Agencies and organizations that make public and private benefits available to crime victims should develop necessary protocols and procedures to simplify application processes without compromising necessary checks and balances. In addition, they should offer assistance in completing forms and coordinate benefits to victims and survivors. Within the Guide to Responding to Mass-Casualty Incidents, members of the National Association of Crime Victims Compensation Boards (NACVCB) have included a special protocol for handling compensation claims for victims of terrorism cases. Agencies and organizations should consider establishing contractual relationships with service providing entities such as hospitals, funeral homes, and mental health providers to facilitate direct billing whenever possible, thereby relieving the victim of additional and often confusing paperwork.

Recommendation 6

Local, state, and federal agencies responding to victims of a terrorist act should consider establishing an "unmet needs" committee or task force that includes private organizations to ensure that the needs of victims are identified and addressed and that all of the available resources are coordinated and used on behalf of victims.

Discussion
In addition to creating a special task force to review unmet needs and coordinate resources in the aftermath of a terrorist incident, the NACVCB's Guide to Responding to Mass-Casualty Incidents recommends that state compensation programs consider establishing an advisory group to create a directory of resources with local, state, and national information about benefits and services available to victims of crime and mass disasters.

Recommendation 7

States should consider establishing an emergency fund or a process by which emergency funds can be quickly allocated to respond to cases of terrorism. This fund would pay for expenses that are not reimbursable by the state crime victim compensation program and federal assistance funds.

Discussion
The Oklahoma state legislature enabled the Oklahoma Crime Victim Compensation program to accept public and private donations to create a special fund to provide compensation and assistance to the bombing victims and surviving family members. The program was also given the flexibility to pay lost wages and cover grief counseling for family members of the victims. The creation of this special fund enabled the Oklahoma Crime Victim Compensation program to help victims with expenses not traditionally covered by the program. Policymakers should determine in advance if legislation is required to establish a special fund, what kinds of additional expenses will be covered by the fund, how much funding should be held in reserve, and what financial resources are available to support special fund efforts.

Recommendation 8

Agencies serving victims should work together to develop protocols for recruiting, screening, training, and supporting volunteers who work with terrorism victims and their families.

Discussion
To avoid confusion and conflict in the aftermath of a large-scale terrorism incident, guidelines should be developed ahead of time that determine which volunteers will be utilized, minimal qualifications and training of volunteers, and volunteer documentation. Qualified mental health professionals should be teamed with victim advocates and present at all sites serving terrorism victims. Because a terrorism event may include the elements of a large-scale disaster and criminal victimization, greater efforts should be made to link ARC staff and volunteers with victim assistance professionals and volunteers. Each brings critical areas of knowledge and expertise to the victim response. OVC should host a series of regional training events that bring together victim assistance professionals and other professionals and volunteers working in disaster relief.

Recommendation 9

States should ensure that their citizens who become victims of terrorism while traveling outside the borders of the United States are eligible for crime victim compensation and services, and the unique needs of these victims should be considered in deciding what crime-related expenses are allowable.

Discussion
A crime that occurs in a foreign country often presents unique challenges to victims and victims' families or can exacerbate situations typically faced by most victims. These factors may include the cost of emergency overseas travel for families to go to the victim or for the victim to return home, emergency medical costs in countries where payment is expected instead of insurance, the cost of transporting bodies, legal assistance in a foreign country, and the cost of traveling to criminal justice proceedings.

Federal Victim Assistance

The Federal agencies charged with responding to acts of terrorism, both domestically and abroad, should develop detailed protocols or a coordinated crisis response plan with the Office for Victims of Crime to ensure that the rights and needs of terrorism victims are adequately supported.

Recommendation 1

Investigators, prosecutors, victim-witness coordinators, and court personnel should receive training on basic victims' rights laws and services.

Discussion
The Attorney General Guidelines on Victim and Witness Assistance provides a basis for training on legal requirements. Supplemental training should include basic information on the mental health consequences of victimization and available resources and services for victims.

Recommendation 2

The FBI should ensure that plans and resources are in place to keep victims informed of the status of the investigation and case events and that agents can provide information and referrals to victims for compensation and services.

Discussion
Investigative agencies such as the FBI have responsibility for responding to victims of terrorism until charges are filed, at which time the responsibility transfers to the relevant U.S. Attorney's Office. Whenever possible, victims should be informed of critical case events by the investigative agency before that information is released to the media. The FBI should work closely with the Office for Victims of Crime to coordinate supplemental funding and assistance in dealing with large numbers of victims. In cases of airline disasters, the FBI will need to coordinate with the Family Assistance Program in the National Transportation Safety Board. Cases that occur overseas require coordination with the U.S. Department of State, because that department is charged with taking the lead in the emergency response to terrorism against Americans abroad. Not all terrorism cases will result in an arrest and trial as quickly as these events occurred after the bombing of the Murrah Building.24 It is not always immediately clear if a mass-casualty event is the result of a criminal act as illustrated by the crash of TWA Flight 800. In addition, cases involving chemical and biological agents may affect thousands of people and create huge challenges for disseminating critical information about the medical impact of exposure, safety, and availability of services.25

Recommendation 3

Federal agencies need to ensure that identification of victims and access to victim contact information are established and maintained.

Discussion
The FBI, EOUSA, and OVC should work with ARC, NTSB, and others to ensure that victim contact information is available to responding investigative and prosecuting agencies in a timely fashion. Privacy laws intended to protect victim information from public disclosure or inappropriate uses should not be used to withhold victims' names and contact information from the criminal justice agencies charged by federal law with providing rights and services to crime victims. Privacy Act issues should be addressed prior to an act of terrorism through MOUs or as part of a coordinated crisis response plan. Providing victim contact information to a law enforcement agency is a crucial exception to the Privacy Act.

Recommendation 4

Federal agencies should maintain a "fly-away" team of victim assistance experts, including an OVC representative, to provide onsite support and technical assistance in developing the response to terrorism victims.

Discussion
OVC has identified individuals in federal and state agencies and nonprofit programs with knowledge and expertise in working with mass-casualty and violent crime victims. Also, OVC has identified people with the capacity to activate or locate funding and other resources to assist communities in coping with a criminal disaster. OVC may be able to use VOCA funds to help support the cost of support teams for immediate assistance and ongoing technical assistance.

Recommendation 5

Prosecuting offices should establish mechanisms to ensure that victims are kept informed of case events, ongoing services, and support throughout the trial process.

  1. U.S. Attorneys' Offices should appoint an Attorney Liaison as an advisor for victims and the trial team. Prior to the trial and during the trial, the Attorney Liaison should maintain regular contact with victims to ensure that they understand the prosecution process.

  2. Victims should have the opportunity to meet with the trial team on a periodic basis to ensure that prosecutors fulfill the requirement to use their best efforts to consult with victims about major case events and make reasonable efforts to consult about proposed plea bargains.

  3. Prosecutors and victim-witness coordinators should ensure that plans are in place to enable as many victims as possible to participate in court proceedings. In addition, a mechanism should be in place for providing victim impact information at sentencing in the event of a guilty plea or verdict.

Discussion
Prosecutors and victim-witness coordinators are required to follow the AG Guidelines to ensure that they are in compliance with federal laws and U.S. Department of Justice policy regarding victims. Cases involving large numbers of victims and victims living in many parts of the country or the world may require special funding and the development of creative measures. Offices may consider tools such as toll-free information lines, special Web sites for victims, and the development of specific information guides for keeping victims informed of case events and for providing information about services.26 Prosecutors should work with the court to facilitate victim participation. Large numbers of victims may pose challenges for enabling victims to present victim impact information at sentencing. Prosecutors should work with the victims to develop a plan that will allow as many victims as possible to present their information orally or in writing.

 D.
In cases where there is a change of venue, prosecutors should work with the court to ensure that reasonable efforts are made to make a closed-circuit telecast of the trial available to as many victims as possible, to identify resources for travel assistance, and to identify and put into place support for victims in the community in which the trial is being held.

Discussion
Facilities for closed-circuit viewing by victims should be designed or selected with sensitivity to the needs of victims for privacy, reasonable comfort, and safety. Resources for victims' travel may come from private or public funds. In the Oklahoma City bombing trials, a site was established in Oklahoma City for victims to view the trial, whereas four sites were established for victim families in the Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie trial, since victim families resided in 21 countries and 48 states. Assistance with victims traveling to the Oklahoma City bombing trials and the Pan Am Flight 103 trial received funding support from OVC because Congress passed special legislation enabling OVC to use VOCA funds to support these activities. The Denver community established an effective and extensive network of support for the Oklahoma City bombing victims traveling to the trial. In the case of the Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie trial, which is being held in the Netherlands, OVC has been able to provide funding for victim support staff and station them at the special court and to create a secure family waiting area in the court building.

 E.
When a terrorism act results in multiple trials, prosecutors and victim assistance professionals should coordinate their activities to reduce the demands and stresses on victims, surviving families, and witnesses.

Discussion
Maintaining consistent communication between prosecutors and victim assistance professionals will help reduce confusion and duplication of efforts and ensure that the needs of both victims and the trial prosecutors are met in a timely manner.

Recommendation 6

The U.S. Department of Justice should assist victims with media requests by providing a media liaison with expertise in working with victims to reduce unnecessary trauma to victims and to ensure that journalists have access to the information they need to cover the story without negatively affecting victims.

Discussion
High-profile cases, such as terrorism cases, elicit intense media attention. The following issues must be considered when giving media what they need without overwhelming victims or violating their privacy and freedom of movement:

  • Coordination of large numbers of requests for information from the media.

  • Protection of victims who do not wish to interact with the media.

  • Assurance of accuracy of reports.

  • Assurance of sensitive and fair treatment of victims.

Recommendation 7

Federal court personnel should have policies and procedures that reflect current law and relevant court decisions affecting victim participation in judicial proceedings.

Discussion
New statutes were passed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, and there have been changes related to restitution and other victim-related issues. OVC is supporting a project by the National Center for State Courts to develop a bench book for state and local judges and court personnel on victim participation in court proceedings. The federal courts should consider developing a similar bench book or include victim issues in the standard bench book already in use.

Recommendation 8

The U.S. Department of Justice should develop and implement a plan for support and assistance to minimize the vicarious trauma impact on investigators, prosecutors, and victim assistance personnel who are directly involved with primary victims.

Discussion
Being involved in a mass-casualty terrorism case is an intense experience at physical, emotional, and psychological levels. The closer an individual works with traumatized victims, the more likely he or she will experience secondary trauma. Agencies ask a great deal of employees who handle these cases, and they should ensure that assistance and support is available to their employees. Efforts should be made to provide information about vicarious trauma to personnel and supervisors, and mechanisms should be enacted that enable personnel to access assistance without fear of adverse impact on employment. Supervisors should work with affected employees to develop appropriate plans to help employees "reenter" their regular job once their responsibilities for the terrorism case are completed. Employee Assistance Programs should work closely with federal supervisors and managers to identify appropriate steps for employee reintegration into the workplace, with special attention given to the types of assignments, the work environment, and timing.

Recommendation 9

Federal agencies whose employees may be targeted by acts of terrorism, including those with embassies and installations abroad, should have information and procedures for responding to employee victims and their families. Information about various benefits and the processes for obtaining those benefits should be streamlined.

Discussion
OVC and the U.S. Department of State are cochairing an interagency task force to address the complex needs of victims of terrorism abroad. One of the tasks identified by this group is to improve access to information and coordination among agencies related to employee benefits.

Recommendation 10

Federal agencies with funding for victim support and mental health services should determine which types of services and for what length of time they will provide funding support for these services to state and local agencies.

Discussion
Federal agencies need to develop an appropriate plan for supporting assistance to victims of terrorism that takes into account the long-term needs of these victims and the need for significant investment in services by the affected state and local jurisdictions. Federal agencies should coordinate funding and services and ensure that the effectiveness of the services is evaluated. The FEMA-CMHS approach to providing mental health services in the aftermath of presidentially declared natural disasters is a good model to follow and adapt to the specific needs of victims of human-caused disasters. CMHS and OVC are working together to assist state mental health agencies and other providers in training and maintaining a staff of experienced individuals who are trained in trauma resulting from terrorism.27

Recommendation 11

The Office for Victims of Crime should ensure that responding criminal justice and emergency response agencies are aware of the existence of OVC's Emergency Reserve Fund and the ability of OVC to assist in coordinating services and information for victims of crime.

Discussion
In the immediate aftermath of an act of terrorism, OVC staff should contact the responding agency as soon as possible to establish a point of contact, to provide technical assistance, and to provide special or supplemental funding if required. Congress should consider amending the statute authorizing the use of the reserve fund for terrorism cases to enable the funds to be provided to a wider range of agencies, including the FBI, NTSB, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and to use the funds to cover a broader range of services, including emergency travel expenses, mental health services, and trial support.



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Responding to Terrorism Victims: Oklahoma City and Beyond October 2000