Leadership and Advocacy in Times of Crisis
Never, never, never give up.
– Winston Churchill
In this unit, you will learn about strategies to implement leadership and advocacy in times of crisis. You may not know what crisis lies ahead, but rest assured you will face a man-made or natural disaster in your time as a counselor educator and supervisor. A crisis may have national or global impact, such as the terrorists acts of 9/11, climate change, or Covid-19. However, crisis management as a counselor educator, leader, and advocate may also take the form of a localized event, like a campus shooting or hurricane. Professional counselors may find such disasters to be opportunities for resiliency and post-traumatic growth (Lambert & Lawson, 2013).
We know that through a crisis, opportunities appear. For instance, making difficult decisions as leaders allow for an organization’s values and mission to be fulfilled in a meaningful way. Oftentimes, these crises highlight injustice and inequities that require systemic change. Counselors are well positioned through leadership and advocacy to be such change agents in challenging times.
The unit readings will provide trauma-informed, crisis leadership strategies for schools, clinical settings, professional organizations, and communities.
Lambert, S. F., & Lawson, G. (2013). Resilience of professional counselors following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 261–268.
Eade, C. (Ed.). (1942). The unrelenting struggle: War speeches by the Right Hon. Winston S. Churchill (2nd ed.). Cassell.
Leadership and Advocacy in Times of Crisis
It’s so clear that advocacy is so incumbent in the roles that we hold as counselors or counselor educators. I’m wondering about those critical moments or critical incidents, or dare we even say crisis. I’m wondering for each of you, how have you overcome crisis in your leadership or advocacy roles or coped with crisis in your leadership or advocacy roles?
So I think that there is a lot that can be said about a couple of real deep breaths, because I think that one of the things that I learned early in my career for counseling is that the temperature in the room or the environment in the room can escalate or deescalate and I can either join or refrain from joining with that kind of escalation. And I think that it takes practice, again, but it’s important as a leader and important as an advocate to not join in on an escalation. And it’s not always easy because if you have a vested interest and are strong in your opinion and standpoint, matter of fact, your inclination is to step forward and join in because we need to do something because this is an emergency and somebody could get hurt or something. Some bad policy is about to be created. And I have to stop it. And so there’s urgency, lots of times comes with crisis. But in reflection, urgency on your part does not always create best practice or the right course of action.
So it’s important that, I think, that in terms of being able to handle crisis, one of the best things that we can do as leaders and advocates is to not have an initial response that’s instant. Even if it’s just a piece of being able to take a couple of breaths, even if it’s just to be able to survey the room and to say, “Okay, I need to be able to stand firm where I am and not run forward.”
I mean, we need people to run forward, so I don’t think that that is… it’s not that it’s a bad thing. It’s just that if as the leader, you too are running forward, we don’t have a sense of general oversight. And someone has to be calm and collected and see a bigger picture to be able to not run forward. And sometimes I think it’s a matter of just a couple of really strong breaths. And I mean, as a true core counseling technique, but to be able to say, “I can be calm in the midst of this storm. Someone needs to be able to see past the storm. My role here is going to be different than roles that other individuals will need to take.” Those would be my thoughts.
Thank you. One thing I’d like to add here is from a personal experience, actually two. And one was while serving as an officer in the Tennessee School Counselor Association, I was serving as an officer there during a piece of legislation that’s become referred to as Don’t Say Gay, and the legislation would have required any licensed educator, which includes school counselors, to notify parents if a child expresses, even questioning, their sexual orientation or gender identity.
And so of course that is an ethical violation in addition to just a really bad idea that could potentially create risk. And so that was one type of crisis that struck at a professional level. In addition to that legislation, a rider to the legislation was that school counselors would only engage in counseling for academic related issues, not for mental health issues or something towards that supported personal social development.
That legislation was eventually defeated. And another more recent example is here at Capella during the most recent COVID-19 health situation, which impacted, especially our Masters learners in their practicum and internships as their sites began to close. And we found a way forward and are continuing to find a way forward.
But the piece about how to overcome that, or how to sustain through that, my recommendation is to know that you’re not alone and to find your crew. I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but truly two or more heads are better than one. So in both that state example, it wasn’t just incumbent upon me as an officer in the association, or even just the association. It was incumbent upon a lot of people who knew a lot about advocacy. Particularly about advocating against potentially harmful legislation. And in the COVID-19 example, many of them are on this call here, but a whole team of leaders and counselor educators came together to say, “What can we do that can help us find a way forward?” So I just encourage you to remember, you’re not alone in this, surround yourself with people who can support you and lean in together.
That’s such excellent advice. And understanding that crises are going to happen, right? Whether they’re something that comes from the university or something that we, as a profession, are reacting to. Legislation or the school shooting, an entire university system closure, and how that impacts learners. There are just some big things that are out of our control on an individual level. And when you’re in that leadership role, being aware that there’s something that’s going to happen, that allows you to step into the role of being proactive as opposed to reactive. And that’s a really big shift that’s incredibly helpful because then you can start thinking about what are the different plans in terms of when something happens, how will we react? Does that mean that you’ll have everything figured out? Absolutely not because every situation is unique. But if you have the infrastructure in place to deal with those kinds of things, then it allows you to be more agile in your response to whatever that crisis might be.
So for instance, similar to what happened in Tennessee with the school counselors, there was another community counseling piece in terms of conscious cause legislation that was against, again, the code of ethics and in terms of how and who we could interact with. And so we decided to move an entire conference at the last minute because of our values in terms of wanting to make sure that counselors could be able to work with people in a way that was ethical, that was relying on evidence based practices and that was in the best interest of the client. That was not an easy decision. And when you’re dealing with millions of dollars in terms of the outcome of decisions, it’s a little daunting. But again, I think working collaboratively to come up with those discussions and deciding how to proceed is really important.
For COVID-19 in terms of canceling the conferences, 2020 conference, that was not as hard of a decision, even though we still risk losing millions of dollars of income that was not coming in from ACA, we had an insurance rider, which we don’t know if that will cover it or not. But the health and wellbeing of our members and our staff are incredibly important. So that was a much easier decision to be able to say, “We absolutely can’t do this. It’s a health concern.”
The other one, there was some people who wanted to stay in Tennessee and fight and be on the ground and have protests. And others wanted to make sure that people were safe. So there are conversations that have to take place to make these decisions and it’s not in a vacuum. There are multiple facets that have to be taken into account. And one of the things that we haven’t talked about in terms of who do we pull into this team, unfortunately, we do have to consider legal issues that are related, not just the ethical issues.
So as we make these decisions, how do we protect our students, our clients, our communities, our associations from any negative impact that might come from the decisions that we have to make in terms of the crisis. So it definitely has to be well thought out. But again, I really encourage folks to think about some of these scenarios on the front end, so that you’re not caught off guard as a leader, that you’re able to think about maybe how has this been handled in the past? What worked, what didn’t work? What were some lessons learned? And how can we move forward in the future so that if there was something that happened… So for instance, if there’s an incidence at a conference, how do we change our policy to make sure that that doesn’t happen again? Or that we’re not caught flat footed, to be able to deal with something?
So that’s really lessons learned, I think, is really important as well, so that we can move forward and deal with the next crisis that’s on the horizon. Because there’s always something.
Leadership and Advocacy in Times of Crisis
Read the above panel discussion and complete the assigned article readings. For this discussion of 750 words – selected the following settings:
Based on your anticipated career path, what is a potential crisis that may occur within that setting? Describe both a leadership and an advocacy strategy that you would implement in addressing that crisis. Be sure to include citations to support your proposed leadership and advocacy strategies.
The Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision
Volume 12 | Number 1 Article 2
Community Uprising: Counseling Interventions,
Educational Strategies, and Advocacy Tools
Katherine M. Hermann-Turner
University of Louisiana at Lafayette, [email protected]
Karena J. Heyward
Southern New Hampshire University, [email protected]
Carrie Lynn Bailey
Walden University, [email protected]
Follow this and additional works at: https://repository.wcsu.edu/jcps
Part of the Counselor Education Commons
This Article is brought to you for free and open access by WestCollections: [email protected] It has been accepted for inclusion in The Journal of
Counselor Preparation and Supervision by an authorized editor of WestCollections: [email protected]wcsu. For more information, please contact
Hermann-Turner, K. M., Heyward, K. J., & Bailey, C. (2019). Community Uprising: Counseling Interventions, Educational Strategies,
and Advocacy Tools. The Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision, 12(1). Retrieved from https://repository.wcsu.edu/jcps/
Community Uprising: Counseling Interventions, Educational Strategies,
and Advocacy Tools
Ferguson riots, Baltimore uprising, marches on the White House… how can counselor educators incorporate
crisis intervention training into curriculums, implement measures to prevent public unrest, and increase
community resilience to avoid the violent repercussions of racial tensions? This article explores common
precursors to racially charged unrest and provides a model for innovative counseling interventions,
curriculum development, and advocacy based on the American Counseling Association (ACA) Disaster
Impact and Recovery Model (2009). In addition, the authors provide specific course-based discussion
questions to use as tools to foster perspective taking and increased understanding among student and
crisis intervention, advocacy, curriculum development
This article is available in The Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision: https://repository.wcsu.edu/jcps/vol12/iss1/2
Throughout American history, racial tension has been a source of strain and unrest (Daniel,
2000). While historians indicate that the United States was established to engender equality,
numerous populations have been dehumanized, oppressed, and exploited (Banks, 2003;
Huntington, 2013; Macdonald, 2002; Ritchie & Mogul, 2007; Romero, 2006). The subsequent
result of these injustices has been political and social unrest, which is distressing to communities
and the nation (Jernigan et al., 2015). This paper uses the American Counseling Association (ACA)
Disaster Impact Recovery Model (2009) as a foundation for implementing counseling
interventions, educational strategies, and advocacy tools which can be engaged to nurture
sustained community change in the face of frequent community uprisings.
Background and Precursors
When exploring American history, one can easily uncover both historical and recent
racially charged incidents of unrest (A history of racial injustice, 2014; Anderson & Finch, 2014;
Olzak, Shanahan, & McEneaney, 1996; Romero, 2006). From the Civil War, oppression during
the World Wars, the civil rights movement, and the Ferguson and Baltimore riots, Americans have
been exposed to conflict. Some of these conflicts and racial inequalities have been publicly
recognized, while other events have been repressed receiving little media attention or social
support. While the United States has worked toward creating equal opportunities for all Americans
(e.g., 13th Amendment in 1865, Civil Rights Act of 1868, Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, 19th
Amendment in 1920, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas in 1954, Civil Rights Act
of 1964, Civil Rights Act of 1991, and others), the statistics discussed below present ongoing
Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015 found race-based inequalities in areas
of income, employment, and education. The average household income for Whites was $62,950
compared to $36,898 for Blacks and $45,148 for Hispanics (Proctor, Semega, & Kollar, 2016).
Similarly, unemployment rates for individuals over age 16 varied greatly by race with 4.3% of
Whites experiencing unemployment while 8.1% of Blacks or African Americans and 5.9% of
Hispanics were unemployed (United States Department of Labor, 2017). Finally, education
statistics reveal similar gaps with 37.7% of Whites having a bachelor’s degree or higher while only
27.3% of Blacks or African American and 18.6% of Hispanics reached the same level of education
(United States Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). Although the U.S. has
looked for ways to reduce poverty and increase education through initiatives at various levels
(ASCD, 2015), statistics still show vast differences between races.
In addition to economic trends many race-based injustices remain static. It is not difficult
to uncover numerous instances of racial profiling (Ritchie & Mogul, 2007); for example, the
disproportionately large number of police inquiries on Blacks in the state of New York (Spitzer,
1999). According to an analysis of police reports collected between January 1998 and March 1999
in New York City, Blacks constituted 25.6% of the population but were 50.6% of the individuals
pulled over by officers. Only 12.9% of the people who were stopped were White although this
demographic is 43.4% of the total population (Spitzer, 1999). As seen with this data, along with
data from the National Institute of Justice (2013), current statistics indicate inequitable conditions
for minority populations.
Similarly, individuals of Hispanic origin have experienced racial profiling and inequitable
treatment. Unlike the Black population, Hispanics introduce added complexity because of the
blend of illegal and legal immigration statuses and a different native language (Romero, 2006). In
2014, 5.8 million illegal Mexican immigrants lived in the United States (Krogstad, Passel, & Cohn,
2016) while in 2015, 139,400 legal immigrants were from Mexico (Zong & Batalova, 2017). It
has been stated that the high Hispanic immigration rates challenge American identity because of
the tendency for Hispanics to integrate rather than assimilate like earlier European immigrants
(Huntington, 2013). Regardless of nationalization status, native language, or desire to assimilate,
in the United States, these individuals experience dehumanizing oppression, racial profiling, and
race-based injustices (Romero, 2006). A relevant, historical example is the “Chandler Roundups”
in 1997 in Chandler, Arizona where hundreds of suspected immigrants were profiled, arrested, and
deported. The joint effort by local law enforcement and border patrol resulted in the deportation
of 432 illegal immigrants and violation of an undocumented number of legal citizens’ civil rights
(Romero & Serag, 2005). The unpredictability and brutality surrounding these arrests left the
community feeling unsafe and unprotected.
Another population routinely profiled in mainstream American culture are individuals with
Muslim religious beliefs. In 2015, an estimated 3.3 million Muslims lived in the United States. By
2035 it is estimated that the Muslim population will surpass the Jewish population, and by 2050
Muslims will become the second largest religious group after Christians (Mohamed, 2016).
Profiling of this population is often justified as an anti-terrorist or counterterrorist effort, reasoning
which ignores a potential terrorist’s desire and ability to blend into their environment (Harcourt,
2007) and subsequently restricts the rights of innocent individuals (Banks, 2003). Profiling has
fostered brutality (Ritchie & Mogul, 2007), restricted access to services (Macdonald, 2002; Ritchie
& Mogul, 2007), and violated civil rights (Banks, 2003).
Trauma and trauma impact are important aspects when addressing race-based inequality,
as they are a byproduct of both the experience of oppression (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2006) and
the resulting uprisings (Jernigan et al., 2015). As outlined in the Race-Based Traumatic Stress
model proposed by Carter (2007), for our work we define race-based trauma as uncontrollable,
oppressive, emotionally painful experiences resulting in feelings of vulnerability and
defenselessness. Race-based trauma can be triggered by experiencing microaggressions, law
enforcement victimization, race-based harassment, or witnessing race-based harassment and
violence. Literature chronicles the long history of the effects of these experiences on racial
minorities both emotionally and physically (Pascoe & Richman, 2009). Depression (Carter, 2007;
Chou, Asnaani, & Hofmann, 2012), anxiety (Carter, 2007; Chou et al., 2012), posttraumatic stress
disorder (Chou et al., 2012), dissociative symptoms (Polanco-Roman, Danies, & Anglin, 2016),
agoraphobia with and without a history of panic disorder (Chou et al., 2012), and other diagnoses
have all been well documented. Similarly, physical distress such as high blood pressure and heart
problems (Carter, 2007) have also been identified. As this form of trauma is often experienced and
re-experienced, individuals frequently exhibit long-term, life changing effects.
We often look to possible causes for the perpetuation of race-based inequality. It is not
difficult to find these instances of legalized and socially legitimated institutionalized racism,
defined in literature as the “structures, policies, practices, and norms resulting in differential access
to the goods, services, and opportunities of society by ’race’” (Jones, 2002, p.10). Countless acts
of housing discrimination, unequal public recognition, compensation inequality, and denial of
services are common (Equal Justice Initiative, 2014) yet frequently unchallenged. Similarly, social
media forums such as Facebook and Twitter can often be a way for individuals to state their
opinions and express either support or disdain for an act of oppression. This modern form of
expression can explicitly or implicitly support, allow, or enable discrimination, prejudice, bigotry,
and racism (Ring, 2013; Tynes, Rose, & Markoe, 2013). As counselors and counselor educators,
we often see the effects of these micro and macro aggressions and ask ourselves the questions:
How have things changed? What can we do to stop the cycle of oppression? What can we do to
help the victims and the bystanders?
Advocacy is an inherent orientation of counselors and counselor educators as outlined in
the ACA Code of Ethics (2014) and specific ACA Advocacy Competencies (Ratts, Toporek, &
Lewis, 2010), as well as within the 2016 CACREP standards (CACREP, 2015). The ACA Code
of Ethics (2014) calls for counselors to advocate at a number of levels to address potential barriers
and obstacles to the growth and development of clients (A.7.a) while the ACA Advocacy
Competencies (2010) address this responsibility across populations, settings, and areas of need.
As the current sociopolitical climate is increasingly racially-charged (Jernigan et al., 2015),
counselors must remain vigilant in these endeavors, seeking to continue building relationships,
skills, and knowledge in how to best advocate for the needs of their clients and communities. These
activities may best align with the initial phases of the Disaster Impact Recovery Model (ACA,
2009) in connecting with, providing resources for, and advocating on behalf of impacted
communities. Implementation of research-based, culturally-specific models is essential to the
advocacy and outreach process (Ratts et al., 2010). Counselors should connect with organizations
and individuals within the community for guidance on how to best serve the needs of the
community at the local level, careful not to continue the cycle of dismissing the voices of those
who have been impacted, but to empower the community in social-justice initiatives (West-
Olatunji, 2010). In order to promote change and bolster communities in need, we must actively
engage in and commit to national professional advocacy.
Counselor Education Curriculum Resources & Suggestions
The foundation for most counseling programs, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling
& Related Education Programs (CACREP, 2015), provides clear guidelines regarding the core
curriculum and learning outcomes needed to effectively prepare future professional counselors.
These standards include an emphasis on crisis related training throughout the curriculum,
specifically within the areas of human growth and development, counseling and helping
relationships, and contextual dimensions (CACREP, 2015). Thus, it is beneficial for counselor
education programs to build knowledge and skills related to the effects of crises, disasters, and
trauma across the lifespan (CACREP, 2015). Of particular concern is the impact on diverse
individuals because of the history of race-based inequality and oppression (Carter, 2007; Comas-
Diaz, 2016); therefore, counselors should be prepared to implement crisis intervention, trauma-
informed, and community-based strategies for all individuals, couples, and families (American
Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 2004; ACA, 2016; CACREP, 2015).
While the 2016 CACREP standards (2015) are clear regarding educational competencies,
the integration into education programs can pose a challenge when training future counselors in
our current social context to address the increasingly complex racially charged events impacting
clients and communities. As such, counselor educators must explore (a) the client experience, (b)
the counselor educator’s role, (c) the future counselor’s role, and (d) potential interventions. A
thorough explanation of these topics can best prepare future counselors to work with clients both
directly and indirectly impacted by racially charged events.
Expanded ACA Disaster Impact and Recovery Model
Outlined below is a framework based on the Disaster Impact and Recovery Model (ACA,
2009), which was developed by the ACA traumatology interest network to provide resources for
counselors working with Disaster Mental Health. This revised model explores ways both counselor
educators and clinicians can address client and community needs during the different stages of
disaster impact and race-based community uprising. This expansion of the ACA Disaster Impact
and Recovery Model (2009) provides a starting point from which to align best-practice clinical
interventions with the phase of impact that the client or community may be experiencing. The goal
of these recommendations is to align counselors’ understanding of crisis work with the recognition
and conceptualization of race-based traumatic stress (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2005; Carter,
2007; Comas-Diaz, 2016).
Stress the critical need for
students to understand the
complexities related to
stressors and race-based
trauma (Carter, 2007).
Increase client awareness
and active reflection;
Facilitate sharing of
emotions, help client to
identify and build healthy
Recognize and assess for
Ensure students are
knowledgeable of and can
apply basic counseling
skills and culturally
Provide opportunities for
counselors in training to
build self-awareness and
Recognize and broach
difference; Basic Active
Listening; Affirm and
validate emotions and
networks for support;
Help client to identify
Assessment Phase Information
Providing resources in
(regional, national, etc.)
Community and social
community events on
collaboration (Office of
Diversity, Student Affairs,
Center, etc.); Teaching
students in a way that
encourages ownership of
biases and using privilege
for positive social change
Having a presence at
Keeping informed about
community happenings to
inform clients as
Counselor skills training;
resources in education
national, etc.); Facilitate
Referral to community
Ongoing supervision to
prevent caretaker burnout;
Training to address long
term grief symptoms
Empty chair technique;
(shadow box, memory
book, etc.); Reminiscence
Advocate for group
Provide adjunct support
Develop resiliency skills:
adaptive problem solving,
perception, sense of
relationships, humor, and
Ensuring that PTSD is
racially charged events in
the community (Cross-
cultural course, Crisis
Counseling course, etc.)
calming strategies; Yoga;
Identify and challenge
Tools & Interventions
Bryant-Davis and Ocampo (2006) stress the importance of the therapeutic relationship in
connecting with individuals facing race-based trauma and crisis while Comas-Diaz (2016)
emphasizes that such work cannot be done without an understanding and active engagement in the
ethnopolitical and sociopoltical contexts of the client’s experience. As highlighted by Carter
(2007), it is imperative that counselors be aware and engaged in examining the impacts that race,
race-based inequalities, and racism have on the client’s reality, striving to overcome the “dominant
American cultural lens that tends to locate people’s problems in their personal failures” (p. 83).
Through these understandings, counselor educators and counselors can begin to connect with and
work collaboratively with clients and communities on addressing the individual and collective pain
experienced during racially charged events.
Many counselor educators strive to make a difference in their communities and advocate
for change (Ratts & Hutchins, 2009). One path to these changes is the infusion of social change
into the classroom. Counselor educators want to talk to their students about current events, tough
topics impacting the country, or community movements specific to their area, but finding a way to
discuss these topics within counselor education curricula can be challenging (Sue & Sue, 2008).
A key to introducing racially charged topics, current events, and/or community uprisings into the
classroom is making discussions relevant to the course material and the CACREP standards
covered in the course. Professors can develop case studies, or use topics related to community
uprisings across the curriculum. Below are sample questions that can be used or modified for
specific courses. Questions are based on typical course content and can foster meaningful
discussion on the ACA Disaster Impact and Recovery Model (2009).
• What skills can be used to broach topics with clients regarding (current event/current
• How can you build rapport with a client who is coming to see you regarding (current
event/current community uprising) (specific stages of the ACA Disaster Impact and
• How might basic attending skills support this client during their course of treatment?
• How would (theory) explain (current event/current community uprising) (specific stages
of the ACA Disaster Impact and Recovery Model)?
• How would (theory) explain the events/behaviors/cognitions/feelings that lead up to
(current event/current community uprising) (specific stages of the ACA Disaster Impact
and Recovery Model)?
• How would you support a client from a (theory) approach, if they were seeking counseling
based on (current event/current community uprising) (specific stages of the ACA crisis
• How might culture play a role in the specific stages of the ACA Disaster Impact and
• What systemic issues are related to (current event/community uprising)?
• How do we, as counselors, work to resolve these systemic issues?
• How do we make our clients aware that we are a part of a system that is helpful to their
current situation, rather than a part of a system that works against their current situation?
Legal and Ethical Courses
• What does our state law say about the behaviors we see during (current community
• What are legal ways to show that large numbers of community members are distressed
regarding race relations, institutional racism, and/or systemic barriers to opportunities?
• What ethical obligations do we have toward clients and community members that are faced
with (issues motivating community uprising)?
• How might legal and ethical considerations be overlooked (from the client’s perspective)
during the stages of the ACA Disaster Impact and Recovery Model?
Human Development Courses
• How does human development relate to (current event/current community uprising)
(specific stages of the ACA Disaster Impact and Recovery Model)?
• How might people at different developmental levels respond to (current event/current
• If a client were to come see you for counseling regarding (current event/current community
uprising), how might their developmental level impact your approach to counseling?
Introduction to Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling Courses
• How might (current event/current community uprising) impact families in our community?
• What presenting issues may families report based on the stages in the ACA Disaster Impact
and Recovery Model?
• How might these events lead families in our community to seek family counseling?
School Counseling Courses
• What can be done within the school system to support students that are impacted by
(current event/current community uprising)?
• What presenting concerns may a student display or report based on the stages in the ACA
Disaster Impact and Recovery Model?
• What can you do as a School Counselor to advocate for these students within the school
and within the community?
• How can School Counselors educate teachers, administration, and other staff on (current
event/current community uprising)?
• What are some ways to increase community resilience to avoid violent repercussions of
racially charged events/uprisings?
• What can we do as (School Counselors, Marriage, Couple and Family Counselors, or
Clinical Mental Health Counselors) to advocate for change and prevent future uprisings?
As eloquently expressed by Kenneth Hardy, “Racial oppression is a traumatic form of
interpersonal violence which can lacerate the spirit, scar the soul, and puncture the psyche” (2013,
p. 25). This inequality has often been a source of tension, strain, and unrest throughout the history
of the United States resulting in community uprisings as well as feelings of confusion and
questions about how to find a resolution. As professional counselors and counselor educators, there
is a unique opportunity to educate counseling students and impact communities at different phases
of social and/or political unrest to inform change and forward movement. In order to support
communities and community members during times of uprising, counselors-in- training must be
given opportunities to connect with a diverse client population, diverse client issues, and
competent and directed supervision on these issues throughout their classroom and field
preparation. It is only in providing these opportunities, and equipping counselors with the
necessary information and tools, that professional counselors can truly support communities
through racially charged incidents, and eventually help stop the historic cycle of racism and
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The 2012 sandy hook elementary school shooting: Connecticut’s
department of mental health crisis response
Paul DiLeoa, Michael Roweb, Barbara Bugellac, Lauren Siembabc, James Siemianowskic,
Jennifer Blackd, Patricia Rehmere, Frank Bakerf, Christa Morrisg, Miriam Delphin-Rittmonc,
and Thomas Styronb
aCT Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), Hartford, CT, USA; bYale University School of
Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA; cDMHAS, Hartford, CT, USA; dBeacon Health Options, Boston, CT, USA; eHartford
HealthCare, Hartford, CT, USA; fUniversity of Connecticut, Storrs, CT USA; gUC Berkeley Medical School, Berkeley, CA
This article reports on the role, activities, and lessons learned of a state
mental health authority—the Connecticut Department of Mental Health
and Addiction Services—in responding to the mental health needs of
families and community members following the 2012 Sandy Hook
Elementary School shooting. Following the introduction, we provide a
brief case study of Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’
role in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. This role included use of
the Incident Command System (ICS) to deploy a standing statewide net-
work of clinicians who provided direct care for surviving children and
school personnel, victims’ family members, and others, and coordination
of its mental health response with the activities of other state, private, and
individual players. We then discuss key themes and lessons learned and
offer recommendations to mental health authorities for planning and
implementing their own responses to possible like incidents in the future.
Accepted 15 September 2017
School Violence; Mass
Shooting; Behavioral Health;
Incident Command System;
Systems of Care; State
The 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (“Sandy Hook shooting”) in Newtown,
Connecticut was one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. This article, among the first
to examine a state mental health authority’s role in responding to a school shooting, places that role
in the context of and in relation to those of other state departments, non-state organizations, and
individuals. We begin with a brief case study of the activities of the Connecticut Department of
Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting,
including use of the Incident Command System (ICS) for multi-organizational and personnel
deployment, and deployment of a state Disaster Behavioral Response Network (Network).
This article is written from the perspective of DMHAS administrators who participated in
addressing the short- and long-term needs of affected families and the Newtown, Connecticut
community. It is not a formal study of a state mental health authority’s disaster response, but a
case report and analysis based on the intensive involvement of DMHAS officials and other staff
during the early days after the Sandy Hook shooting and for three months following the event.
Following the case study, we discuss key themes and lessons learned and offer recommendations that
may help other mental health authorities prepare for their own responses to possible like incidents in
the future, an issue of special importance, as most state disaster plans give little attention to mental
health needs (Elrod, Hamblen, & Norris, 2006).
CONTACT Thomas Styron [email protected] Yale University School of Medicine – Psychiatry, 34 Park Street, New
Haven, CT 06519.
© 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
JOURNAL OF SCHOOL VIOLENCE
2018, VOL. 17, NO. 4, 443–450
The DMHAS response to the sandy hook shooting
On Friday morning, December 14, 2012, 21- year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother at her home in
Newtown, Connecticut, then went to the nearby Sandy Hook elementary school and killed 21 first
graders and six school personnel. Governor Dannel Malloy declared a state of emergency and
activated the Connecticut Emergency Operations Center in Hartford, the State Capitol. There,
decision makers from a broad array of agencies, including FEMA, the American Red Cross, and
state agencies representing law enforcement, public health, Children and Families (DCF), education,
transportation and DMHAS, assembled to address the crisis.
At this time, the DMHAS Commissioner ordered activation of the DMHAS Incident Command
Team. Team personnel included the DMHAS Commissioner, the Chief Operating Officer (who
served as Incident Commander and is the first author of this article), the Assistant to the
Commissioner, and the Directors of Evaluation, Quality Management and Improvement, of
Community Services, and of Managed Care. Command Team structure was based on the ICS,
with modifications consistent with DMHAS resources and established networking procedures with
other state and non-state agencies.
The ICS identifies task responsibilities for managing day-to-day operations of emergency inci-
dents, requiring that each individual involved report to one supervisor only and that all commu-
nications, procedures, facilities, and equipment be integrated. The Department of Homeland
Security has adopted the ICS for emergency management, incident response, and coordination
(Chertoff and U.S., 2008; Moynihan, 2009). Some empirical research on the ICS has been conducted.
The system provides a framework for collective action, but responders must be able to modify it in
real-time response to critical events (Feiock & Scholz, 2009; Kendra & Wachtendorf, 2003;
Wachtendorf & Quarantelli, 2003; Waugh, 2009). The ICS may be most effective when only a few
organizations carry out the response (Thomas et al., 2005; Waugh, 2009) and when these organiza-
tions have worked together previously (Crichton, Lauche, & Flin, 2005; Waugh, 2009), for routine
emergency situations in limited geographic areas (Jensen & Waugh, 2014; Thomas et al., 2005;
Waugh, 2009), and with limited volunteer participation (Chrichton et al., 2005; Waugh, 2009).
Regarding behavioral health responses, potential challenges associated with use of the ICS (or other
models) include the coordination of short- and long-term interventions (Bigley & Roberts, 2001;
Feiock, 2007; Feiock & Scholz, 2009; Kendra & Wachtendorf, 2003; Wachtendorf & Quarantelli,
2003), the use of competing treatment models by various disciplines (Andrew & Kendra, 2012), and
differences in lay persons’ trust in mental health providers across cultural, racial, and ethnic groups
and socioeconomic status (Norris & Alegría, 2008).
Despite these potential or actual drawbacks, DMHAS responders found the ICS to be a useful tool
for coordinating responders and activities, with real-time modifications as suggested in the literature.
We note that, as an evaluation of the specific strengths and weaknesses of the ICS was not
conducted, we cannot determine if other incident response structures might have served the
Incident Command Team as well, only that Command Team respondents, including several of the
authors of this article, agreed that the system, as employed and experienced, facilitated the mental
health response to the Sandy Hook Shooting, with some qualifications that we will discuss below.
The Incident Command Team assembled at its own command center in Hartford, where an
initial assessment of likely mental health needs of families and the community was made, an action
plan was formulated, and the response was implemented. The direct-care component of the DMHAS
response was the agency’s Disaster Behavioral Health Response Network (Network), comprised of
more than 250 clinicians affiliated with DMHAS, DCF, the University of Connecticut, and Yale
University. The Network provides mobile teams of behavioral health clinicians trained in psycho-
logical first aid and grief counseling to help disaster victims and their families.
On the day of the shooting, Network clinicians were put on alert, and members of the Incident
Command Team traveled to the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire Department, the local command center
444 P. DILEO ET AL.
established by state police. There, DMHAS Incident Command Team members worked with state police,
DCF, the American Red Cross, and other partners to coordinate the local behavioral health response.
“Family notification teams” comprised of a mental health professional, a state trooper and a
clergy member were created. These teams went to the homes of victims’ families to inform them of
their child’s or other loved one’s death and to offer any support needed or requested. Clinicians were
posted around town at candlelight vigils and multiple public meetings held by town and school
officials. In addition, a community resource center was established at a local school in collaboration
with the Red Cross and other organizations, as an additional option to address the mental health and
other needs (e.g., food, financial assistance) of grieving families and for the community at large.
The Incident Command Team, deploying the resources of its Network in collaboration with DCF
and the U.S. Public Health Service leadership and clinicians, created, additionally, seven teams of
three-to-five mental health professionals each to respond to the mental health needs of anyone
closely affected by the tragedy. It also identified other resources for the overall mental health
response, including the National Child Traumatic Stress Network through its affiliation with Yale
University. All of these players were instrumental in developing a long-term recovery plan for
Four days after the shooting, when all but the Sandy Hook School re-opened in Newtown, and
then again on January 3, 2013 when the relocated Sandy Hook School opened, Network clinicians
assigned to each school visited classrooms when requested or met with children individually. “Family
Liaisons”, often clinicians who had been part of the family notification teams, were assigned to each
victim’s family. Over time, the role of Family Liaisons evolved from notification and addressing
immediate mental health and emotional concerns to ongoing support and referral to a wide variety
of services not limited to mental health care. Many Family Liaisons kept in contact with their
identified family for several months.
In addition to the above activities and resources, the Incident Command Team vetted hundreds
of offers of help from other mental health professionals, other organizations and individuals who
wanted to donate cash, services or offer other resources. The Team also monitored media reports
and responded to inquiries, gave multiple daily situation reports to the State’s emergency operations
center, participated on the Governor’s coordinated command calls and monitored staff for trauma
impact and self-care.
The DMHAS response did not end with immediate and short-term response to the Sandy Hook
shooting. The agency and its institutional partners maintained a clinical presence in Newtown for
three months following the shootings, while simultaneously negotiating, designing and implement-
ing a long-term recovery response.
Discussion and recommendations
In the horrific aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, DMHAS Incident Command Team members
(which, as previously noted, included several authors of this article), in collaboration with multiple
partners, experienced the response as largely addressing the immediate and intermediate mental
health needs of those most affected by the shooting. At the same time they recognized that no
response to such a tragedy can be “enough” for those most directly affected, who may continue to
live with grief and loss for many years, if not the rest of their lives. This article does not constitute a
formal evaluation of the response, then, but a retrospective report drawing heavily on the experi-
ences of participants.
Central to the successful aspects of the DMHAS response was its inclusion of all state responders
and key voluntary organizations. Representation of multiple players helped DMHAS connect quickly
and efficiently with other collaborators, including non-state organizations such as the American Red
Cross. The Red Cross had crafted a prospective state response and training, based on the ICS and for
crises such as a mass shooting. Another key “pre-disaster” planning element was development of the
standing Network of clinicians following 9/11. The ICS provided a valuable framework for
JOURNAL OF SCHOOL VIOLENCE 445
responding to the Sandy Hook shooting, but management of specific resources had to be tailored to
the unique circumstances that the shooting presented. We have identified lessons learned from the
DMHAS response that may be of value to other states and organizations. These include the some-
times-overlapping themes of: a standing clinical network; local players and resources; specialized
training; meeting the needs of diverse victims; media attention, volunteers, and other efforts to help;
and long-term recovery, funding and other resources.
Standing clinical network
The immediate availability of the DMHAS Network of clinicians who could provide direct care to
victims’ family members, student and school personnel survivors, and others was likely as important
to the overall success of the Sandy Hook response as the incident command structure. The Network,
with communication processes and structures worked out in advance, assured a swift response in the
immediate aftermath of, and first few weeks after, the incident. However, as highlighted in the
following section, this Network could have been enhanced and/or better supported over time
through improved planning around the use of local resources. This is especially true in cases like
the Sandy Hook shooting, requiring longer-term responses that are likely to deplete the availability
or emotional health of first and early responders.
Local players and resources
In a virtually connected world, face-to-face contact and interaction still matters, and rarely more so
than in response to local disasters. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, the fact that
Connecticut state and regional emergency response planning groups had not included local mental
health providers in disaster planning became evident, and required immediate correction. In making
this course correction, it became clear that many mental health resources were available in Newtown
and the surrounding area, but that these services were delivered by multiple providers and encom-
passed a myriad of treatment orientations.
Newtown did not have its own public mental health center. It has a town-sponsored child and
family service agency focused primarily on prevention services, not mental health counseling. It has a
range of private practitioners, but many do not specialize in trauma or grief counseling. In the days
after the shooting, many local and regional practitioners volunteered to help, arriving at the
community center established by the Red Cross, but there were no existing criteria regarding
eligibility requirements for providing mental health support or for managing the selection and
deployment process. Such criteria and better mapping of local and regional resources should be
considered in state mental health disaster planning.
An early response that was successful, in DMHAS responders’ assessment, was placement of the
DMHAS Incident Command Team officials at the Newtown firehouse to more effectively link the
State’s local command structure to a vetted group of experienced clinical providers. This facilitated
timely linkages between mental health resources and families of victims and sharing of critical
information among Network team members and other responders. On the night of the tragedy, for
example, Network clinicians were told that no more death notifications to families would take place
that evening, and clinicians were dismissed. This decision was reversed following consultation
between state police and DMHAS Incident Command Team members, and Network clinicians
were recalled to participate in death notifications that night and into the next morning. The
Incident Command Team accommodated this request more rapidly than would have been possible
in the absence of a strong local presence.
In summary, local mental health providers are likely to be first mental health responders to
victims and the community at large in the immediate and ongoing aftermath of a crisis such as the
Sandy Hook shooting. State or regional response plans should therefore specify the integration of
local providers into the response, identify these providers by region, and work with them in advance
446 P. DILEO ET AL.
as part of disaster planning. A statewide group of trained providers, such as those comprising the
DMHAS clinical Network, can also play a critical role in such crises.
While staff trained in psychological first aid, trauma interventions, and responses to disasters
facilitated the DMHAS response, the young age of most of the victims and the elementary school
setting required additional child-focused and trauma-focused training and resources, especially
within the school system. It also became clear that additional cross-departmental coordination
between DMHAS, DCF, school, law enforcement, and local mental health providers could have
facilitated an even more effective response. Based on this experience, we suggest that the state
disaster-based planning for behavioral health needs may benefit from additional attention to the
intersection of, and communication among, adult, child, school system and law enforcement
services. The need for specialized training also applies to the importance of having staff pre-
trained to participate in death notifications. Because of the fluid nature of the tragedy, DMHAS
needed to conduct a “just-in-time” training for its responders. While some of responders had
participated in death notifications in the past, a more effective response might have been a “unit”
of specially trained responders for this difficult task.
Meeting the needs of diverse groups of victims
There were multiple victims of the Sandy Hook shooting in addition to the 26 persons murdered:
families and loved ones of those killed, those who survived the shooting at the Sandy Hook school
and their families, first and secondary responders, Newtown school system personnel, and members
of the Newtown and nearby communities. One of the most difficult tasks for the DMHAS Incident
Command Team was to triage and deploy resources to victims and others that most needed the help
and to do so within the limits of available resources.
DMHAS and DCF clinical staff, the American Red Cross, and law enforcement mental health
resources were all stretched in efforts to address the needs of thousands of victims belonging to the
groups above. Since school tragedies have an impact on so many different groups, plans to respond to
large-scale school tragedies should identify a wide range of interventions and resources for each. This
should include consideration of different ethnic and cultural preferences and norms regarding mental
health care and care seeking. African-Americans, for example, are often reluctant to seek professional
mental health care due to cultural barriers and social stigma associated with mental illness. People living
in poverty are, likewise, often reluctant to seek professional or conventional counseling services (Algeria
et al, 2002; Norris & Alegría, 2008). While we are not aware of research on differential help seeking
among racial-ethnic groups in the case of large-scale traumatic events, administrators and clinicians
should consider and attend to such factors in the case of disaster responses.
Media attention, volunteers and other offers of help
The Sandy Hook shooting required attention to factors outside DMHAS’ normal scope of services
and concerns. Not only were more local and state agencies, staff, and command centers involved
than in any previous incident, but the event received intense national and international attention,
with large numbers of media representatives and volunteer helpers descending on the town. As
reported in the literature on other major domestic incidents, unsolicited groups of well-meaning
volunteers as well as ‘experts’ with varying levels of legitimacy must be vetted to protect victims and
their loved ones from possible fraudulent treatment and loss of privacy (Brock, 2009; Bowenkamp,
2000; Paton, 2003; Young, 1998).
The Incident Command Team was not prepared to screen the number of people from around the
world that offered to volunteer their time and services. While response planning cannot anticipate
JOURNAL OF SCHOOL VIOLENCE 447
the precise nature of the public and media response to large-scale critical events, the range and types
of likely contacts can, at least in retrospect, be catalogued across responses to such events.
Preparation in this area will allow resources to be deployed more quickly and effectively to screen
and manage offers and items of help.
A different type of assistance requested and offered in response to the Sandy Hook shooting
involved DMHAS solicitation of additional clinicians when it became clear that the scope of the
trauma demanded it. Many clinicians who responded to this call were not familiar with psycholo-
gical first aid techniques and the need to focus on these, rather than more traditional clinical
assessments and interventions. This resulted in role confusion and made it more difficult to integrate
many responding clinicians into the DMHAS response efficiently. One recommendation, therefore,
is to develop screening criteria and processes to assure that professionals brought in to the disaster
response—initial or expanded—are familiar with or can be quickly trained in evidence-based mental
health responses required in such situations.
Long-term recovery, funding and other resources
DMHAS maintained a clinical presence in Newtown for three months following the shootings while
simultaneously negotiating, designing, and implementing a long-term comprehensive recovery
response. While the ICS provided a useful framework and specific instructions to help guide
immediate behavioral health responses, it did not provide a like set of instructions for the longer-
term response. The role of a state mental health authority in responses to a major disaster such as the
Sandy Hook shooting must evolve over time beyond the initial response structure, with correspond-
ing changes in coordinating mechanisms and guidelines.
Two key factors in the development of such longer-term recovery plans are the role of other agencies and
funding. In Newtown, for example, the long-term response involved several state and non-state agencies,
with funding from several federal grant sources, in addition to DMHAS. Each agency played a unique role
within the town or school system and these roles had to be coordinated. The profound trauma and loss
experienced by children and adults required that longer-term, trauma-based mental health services be
available and that changing needs be identified, with appropriate responses over time. Seguin and colleagues
(2008) have called this the “period of surveillance and vigilance” (p. 274) that extends into months and years
after the incident, requiring a “holistic approach” to identifying risk factors and providing appropriate
Another lesson learned, therefore, from the Sandy Hook shooting, is that command teams must quickly
work to assess short, mid-term, and long-term needs involving trained behavioral health specialists in order
to develop a comprehensive recovery plan while still responding to ‘real time’ events and challenges. In the
case of Sandy Hook, this involved, among other matters, intensive and sustained work with school staff and
community officials to identify the clinicians with whom they were most comfortable working and other
Regarding funding issues, state and local providers dealt with a dual mission of maintaining normal
agency service delivery while providing mental health supports to Newtown and the surrounding commu-
nities. This combination threatened to deplete their resources. It was necessary to identify what state or
federal resources were available to support longer-term recovery efforts. Various federal agencies such as the
departments of Justice and Education, and SAMHSA were ready to assist in this process, but staff resources
and time were required to learn their grant application processes and assess what needs could be addressed
through various grant programs. This effort, including the gap in time between submitting grants and
receiving funds, complicates long-term response planning. In the case of the Sandy Hook shooting, the first
grant application submitted was not approved until more than six months after the incident, requiring
responders to commit assets in an uncertain environment in which reimbursement was not guaranteed.
Some federal grants are also intended to be “grants of last resort”, meaning that states cannot apply for them
until other grants have been approved. Factors such as these contribute to the difficulty of implementing
comprehensive recovery programs.
448 P. DILEO ET AL.
Familiarity with federally funded disaster programs such as FEMA’s Crisis Counseling Program (https://
www.fema.gov/recovery…/crisis-counseling-assistance-training-program), SAMHSA’s Disaster
Preparedness, Response and Recovery Efforts (https://www.samhsa.gov/disaster-preparedness/samhsas-
efforts), the US Department of Education’s School Emergency Response to Violence grants (https://
www2.ed.gov/programs/dvppserv/index.html), and FBI programs for crime victims (https://www.fbi.gov/
resources/victim-assistance) can be helpful for responders. Similarly, response teams should also have basic
familiarity with essential elements of specifically school-based recovery programs so that they can rapidly
submit applications for ongoing funding. While each program may differ based on the unique school
tragedy, recovery programs will likely share the essential components such as surveillance, grief and trauma
counseling, parent and teacher education, and a range of mental health supports for students, parents, and
Of equal, if not greater importance is familiarity with resources related to the prevention of school
violence, such as Jane’s Safe School Planning Guide for All Hazards (Dorn, Wong, Thomas, &
Shepherd, 2004) and the Guide for High Quality School Emergency Operation Plans (http://rems.
ed.gov/docs/REMS_K-12_Guide_508.pdf) a joint effort of the US Departments of Education, Health
and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, FBI and FEMA. Finally, important lessons in the
literature on other school shootings including Colorado (see Crepeau-Hobson, Sievering,
Armstrong, & Stonis, 2012) and Texas (see Egnoto, Griffin, Svetieva, & Winslow, 2016) may also
be of great value in disaster preparedness and prevention.
We would like to note several limits to generalizability and offer some caveats regarding this report.
Connecticut is a small state with a strong behavioral health authority that is not part of a larger health
authority. Thus DMHAS has considerable discretion, under the direction of the Governor and in colla-
boration with other state departments, to plan and carry out behavioral health responses to disasters.
Newtown is a mainly white, non-urban, and affluent town with more resources at its disposal than many
other communities have. The Sandy Hook shooting had an enormous impact in Connecticut and across the
nation, and this fact may have contributed to the resources made available to respond to the incident, while,
at the same time, complicating the response due to unsolicited and sometimes unwanted offers of help. In
addition, DMHAS drew on the support of two major research universities, both of which are within
reasonable driving distance to Newtown and DMHAS headquarters in Hartford. Further, Connecticut’s
small size allowed it to deploy supplemental resources relatively quickly from state and private resources
outside of the Newtown area. Finally, Connecticut has a well-developed disaster mental health response that
is integrated into the larger state response. The effectiveness of the ICS or any other disaster response model,
then, must not be assumed to apply to other states with different populations, organizational systems,
partners, and resources.
Despite these differences, and given the recent increase in school-based violence nationally, the lessons
learned from coordinating the local and state response to the Sandy Hook shooting may still have relevance
beyond the State of Connecticut. Over 200 behavioral health specialists previously trained in disaster
response attended to seven public schools in Newtown following the shooting, including those directly
assigned to victims’ and survivors’ families. Building and maintaining an effective disaster response capacity
requires a considerable commitment of time and resources by organizations and staff, including opportu-
nities to practice disaster response activation on a regular basis. In the case of the Sandy Hook shooting, with
some important qualifications, it is the authors’ hope that this report on the successes and challenges of the
behavioral health response to a tragic school shooting will be useful to other states, regions, and organiza-
tions in preparing for and carrying out responses to like future events, and their long-term aftermaths in
JOURNAL OF SCHOOL VIOLENCE 449