3 min read

Family Reunification: A Crucial Step in Emergency Management

Reunification procedures at sports and special events are of paramount importance for the safety and well-being of the attendees, during both routine and emergency operations. During normal conditions, a well-developed individual reunification system provides peace of mind to attendees and enhances the overall fan experience by allowing everyone to enjoy the event without worrying about the well-being of their companions. Following an emergency, particularly one requiring evacuation, efficient and effective reunification can reduce trauma and increase the overall safety of those impacted. When considering procedural development, it is helpful to classify these types of operations as micro- and macro-level reunification. 

Micro-level reunification occurs at the individual or small group level, whereby event staff help guests locate and reunite with companions following a temporary and unexpected separation. Establishing clear and efficient micro-level reunification protocols ensures that lost or separated individuals, particularly children, can be swiftly and safely reunited with their loved ones. A rapid micro-level reunification system also helps to ensure that venues are accessible to guests with a wide range of needs.

In addition to careful planning and training, strategies for enhancing micro-level reunification procedures include: 

  • Quickly launching a systematic and thorough search effort utilizing communication equipment, sharing detailed descriptions, and coordinating activities via the central command center. 
  • Creating a system that keeps the reporting parties in place at the reunification station while providing reassurance and comfort items such as refreshments, CCTV of the event, and a comfortable place to wait.
  • Leveraging technology to assist in search efforts. Camera systems are often the most obvious tool but also consider systems like ticketing platforms, cell phone tracking systems such as “Find my Friends”, and mass notification systems as appropriate. 
  • Utilizing color-coded wristbands to proactively aid in the reunification process by alerting staff to the possibility that guests may need additional assistance if spotted alone. In addition to encouraging staff to initiate a check-in, wristbands can provide the first name and phone number of the guest’s companion. 
  • Including an overview of the reunification process in information sent to guests before the event, such as the “Know Before You Go” email, as well as on venue websites and apps. Be sure to include maps and directions to reunification stations, as well as links to helpful locator apps. 

Macro-level reunification might occur less frequently than micro-level operations, but it is a critical phase of emergency response that requires meticulous planning. In addition to reducing the psychological stress of separation and controlling the movement of individuals on-scene, reunification is also the signifier that activities are moving towards recovery. When done well, venues begin macro-level reunification as soon as it is safe to do so, utilizing in-house staff and resources to connect impacted guests with loved ones in a sensitive and organized manner.

We recommend venues implement these tactics into their macro-level reunification and emergency operations plans:

  • Equip reunification teams well before activation with assigned staff, a detailed plan, frequent practice sessions, and a range of on- and off-site locations to erect stations.  Ensure that reunification teams are equipped with all necessary supplies, internal and external communication tools, and quick ways to request and receive additional resources. 
  • Develop a transportation strategy that supports the movement of large groups to off-site or distant reunification locations. Contracted bus services, routes, and communication protocols can be identified in advance and incorporated into functional exercises.
  • Adopt an integrated or joint command approach to reunification partnerships with external organizations like the American Red Cross. Identify how these organizations can assist and what information they can provide rather than delegating control of the process. Streamline your approach to reunification to align with the most significant partner in your area so that collaboration is the natural outcome. 
  • Integrate scalability in reunification procedures to reduce confusion, congestion, and the time needed to complete paperwork. Features that support scalability include options for multiple reunification locations, various stations for each portion of the process (such as check-in), and access to technology-driven data systems. 
  • Utilize strategies that are trauma-informed and accessible. If possible, develop partnerships with organizations that can provide on-site interpreters and crisis counselors, or identify in-house staff that could fill these roles with additional training. Additionally, dedicate areas for the relay of confidential or upsetting information and create efficient communication pathways (liaisons, direct phone lines, and messaging systems, etc.) with local hospitals and law enforcement agencies. Finally, consider including assistive devices such as wheelchairs, visual aids, and plenty of seating in allocated supplies. 

Whether completed on a micro- or macro-level, reunification is about more than reuniting loved ones; it’s about doing so with empathy, efficiency, and a commitment to the well-being of all involved. These procedures are a testament to the commitment of event organizers to the safety and security of guests and staff. 

If you would like to chat about designing a reunification procedure for your organization, schedule a call with us

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