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A Guide For City-Led Response

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Chapter 1: Mayoral Leadership Response

When a crisis unfolds, citizens look to their elected leaders and government institutions for guidance. Mayors and other sub-national leaders and officials are in a unique position to guide and shape the local response. In the case of a hate- or violent extremism-motivated attack, mayors will be expected or called upon to lead their city’s response to manage the immediate fallout, while also planning for intermediate- and long-term responses to secure their city, support their residents and ensure it builds back stronger and more resilient. Mayors, typically in consultation with senior local government officials, must take quick decisions under a high amount of pressure and uncertainty. Any major missteps can erode multi-agency or citizen trust, or derail future recovery efforts.

This chapter focuses on key points for local leaders to consider as they chart a sensitive and proportional response in those early days and weeks. Above all, they should aim to enhance trust and build unity between the communities and their residents and local authorities. This will lay the groundwork for subsequent efforts.

Roles for Mayors

Mayors play a vital role in both immediate and long-term responses to crises, particularly around communications, coordination and support for survivors, families and frontline workers. Mayors must play a role regardless of whether they have an explicit mandate for post-attack response and should seek out this role proactively. Too often national governments dictate post-crisis response, even though it is mayors and local leaders that an impacted city’s residents will look to for information. The need for strong and visible mayoral leadership in a post-attack environment is critical as its absence can reduce trust in the mayor’s ability to lead the city more broadly, and the local government’s ability to handle future crises. As a local official in Oslo told Strong Cities, “mayoral leadership [in the aftermath of the 2011 attacks] inspired trust that the system was working”. 

Among the roles a mayor can play is coordinating different actors to ensure local needs are being met and that national and local response efforts complement rather than duplicate each other. For example: 

  • Mayors should be at the forefront of public communications following an incident. Leadership communications set the tone for response and can mitigate polarisation and other impacts of the crisis. 
  • Once an incident has been neutralised, mayors should be on the ground consulting with survivors, bereaved families, first responders and community leaders to identify gaps in response, psychosocial and other needs, and leading a multi-agency effort to allocate local resources and/or seeking national government support
  • Mayors can play a key role in coordinating with national government stakeholders and ensuring that the national response is informed by and aligns with the tone and focus of local efforts. 
  • Mayors should also ensure that outsized, loud voices do not drown out local voices, perspectives and needs, and they should advocate at the national level for their constituents and serve as a buffer between national and local actors on the ground. 
  • Mayors must be embedded in command centres responsible for crisis management. For example, following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, then Mayor Thomas Menino formed part of the “unified command centre” that oversaw the city’s response. Utilising this multi-agency structure, he was able to assign roles and responsibilities for different aspects of the response, and craft clear, concise and unified messages to be delivered by the mayor and other city leaders. This helped ensure consistent messaging shaped by multiple local government agencies and emergency responders, and reflective of the mayor’s outreach. Similarly, in Oslo (Norway), following the 2022 attack on the LGBTQ+ community, then Governing Mayor Raymond Johansen immediately mobilised and led the crisis response team. 

National-Local Cooperation in Response

A hate- or violent extremism-motivated incident typically triggers a wide range of responses and responders, both from the local and national levels. Each will have an important role to play, but they can only work effectively if their efforts are coordinated so they complement each other without contradiction or duplication. As the most senior local leader, a mayor is often best placed to coordinate a multi-agency effort to provide support locally and liaise with national agencies to lead a single cohesive response.

Too often, national governments dictate post- crisis responses to the exclusion of local governments, even though it is the mayor and local leaders who the city’s residents will look to for information and support. Mayors and other sub-national leaders often cite the lack of explicit mandates for response as limiting the potential of city-led action in this space. Yet, it is mayors and other city leaders who need to drive this response, supported and encouraged to do so by national government counterparts and security actors (e.g., through appropriate information-sharing and financial support). Crucial to addressing such challenges is to strengthen national-local cooperation (NLC), enabling actors at both levels to work collaboratively and maximise their respective comparative advantages. 

In Norway, for example, the Commission on Extremism is working to identify lessons learned to help cities respond to local threats and improve national-local coordination, and to support local implementation of the national CVE strategy. The Commission has consulted with municipalities across the country to understand their needs and determine how best to leverage the multi-stakeholder structures in place at both the local and national levels that can be leveraged in a post-attack environment.

As a practice, NLC encompasses the structures, resources and approaches that support both national strategies and security-based responses, with localised needs. Strong Cities has developed multiple NLC resources, including a NLC Toolkit for the Global Counterterrorism Forum, supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. For more information on Strong Cities work on NLC, click here

A United “Families First” Response

Following the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, Mayor Andy Burnham commissioned a review of the city’s response. The review found that personal visits by Mayor Burnham to survivors and bereaved families, and the mayor’s overall strong civic leadership, enhanced community reassurance and confidence, and further highlighted the city’s commitment to mounting a united “families first” response. Importantly, the review also found that outreach should extend to survivors of the attack who were not amongst the injured, but still experienced the trauma, and that such efforts should continue in the long-term.

Situation Analysis

In the first moments after an attack

Take a moment. 
The next few hours will be difficult. Take a moment to prepare yourself mentally and physically. While it may seem trivial, it is essential to find the right mindset to make rational decisions under pressure

Analyse the situation. 
Get a complete picture as possible of the attack: 
• Is there an ongoing security risk? 
• How could the situation potentially escalate? 
• Which emergency actors are on the ground? 
• Do certain communities or institutions need immediate protection?

Check the chain of command. 
Make sure you know and have communicated the chain of command, so all teams are aware of and respect each other’s roles. Identify clear hierarchies for decision-making, timeframes for updates and a spokesperson to streamline public messaging.  

Identify priorities.
Clear priorities will guide and justify your next steps. Make sure you communicate these priorities internally and to the public. Ensure future decision-making is consistent with these principles.  


Lead from the Ground

Once an incident has been neutralised, mayors should be on the ground wherever possible to consult with survivors, bereaved families, first responders and community leaders to identify gaps in response, psychosocial and other needs.

The most notable actions we have undertaken, which had a direct impact on countering terrorist operations and positively influencing the people, is that we made sure to be an integral part of the community. This meant being present now at the event with our community to provide support and strengthen their resilience, as well as directing everyone towards finding real solutions to the problem.

Mayor Ibrahim Khalil Awsaj, City of Ramadi (Iraq)

Coordinate with National Government Responders

In most cases, a hate- or violent extremism-motivated attack will trigger a response from the national government, as well as state, provincial or regional-level agencies where relevant. Having this support is critical for response, but it can create coordination challenges, especially where the national response does not immediately align with local needs. 

Part of a mayor’s role will include coordinating with these different agencies and advocating for the needs of their constituents, serving as a buffer where necessary between national and local actors on the ground. 

In doing so, a mayor should be mindful that voices at other levels do not drown out local voices and overshadow their perspectives, concerns and needs. 

A mayor should help ensure that everyone knows their role and have what is needed to perform it. When assigning roles and responsibilities, consider if there are individuals who will be better placed to liaise with certain communities.

General framework

To ensure a comprehensive and coordinated response from the local authority, and with national government, other local leaders (e.g., religious, cultural, activist) and communities, it is pivotal that the mayor and senior city officials have assigned responsibilities. For example, specific individuals might be better placed to liaise with certain communities than others (e.g., the official in charge of the Department for Education will liaise with schools). While tasks would ideally be established formally in advance, the mayor and their advisers should assign responsibilities quickly if they have not already done so.

Residents will find comfort in their leaders’ messages. Showing empathy, in particular towards survivors and their families, is a natural and crucial reaction to an atrocity. However, city spokespeople also need to remain open-minded regarding the indirect impact of their words on the wider population (e.g., communities of a similar ethnicity or religion to the perpetrators may become targets of backlash). It is important to acknowledge that trauma can have unexpected ramifications. 

Information & Guidance 
Those with information should share as much as possible to avoid the spread of rumours and disinformation and misinformation, within the bounds of the relevant security or information-sharing protocol. Even if there are no immediate updates, it is crucial to outline the steps being taken and any barriers to actions or causes for delay. Being transparent is the cornerstone for trust.


Communicating is one of the main and most urgent tasks in the aftermath of an attack (see Chapter 3: Public Communications). While the mayor and local authority might have a general strategy, the chaos and emotional environment surrounding an emergency can easily lead to mistakes being made and gaps in messaging.

Following a violent extremism or hate-motivated attack, mayors should be at the forefront of public communications. These initial messages set the tone for response and can help mitigate additional fallout from misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy narratives. Fear and uncertainty create fertile breeding grounds for misinformation as well as disinformation from malicious actors who wish to take advantage of the situation to spread hate. This can undermine the response effort by spreading panic or fuel polarisation that can critically damage social cohesion and lead to further violence in the future. It is crucial, therefore, that a mayor help the city stay ahead of such threats by communicating clearly, frequently and early to set the official narrative for the event and calm uncertainties insofar as possible. 

Even if there are no immediate updates, it is important to outline the steps being taken and any barriers to actions or causes for delay. 

A mayor should bear in mind four key principles for post-incident communications:

  • Accessibility. Communication should be plain and straightforward as much as possible. Avoid jargon, keep messaging succinct and provide translation – including sign language interpretation – wherever needed, depending on the community’s composition.
  • Balance. Messaging should balance the need to inform – and reduce space for conspiracy narratives – with the need to minimise fear and post-crisis intercommunal tensions. Focus on the city and its communities rather than on the suspected perpetrator(s) and avoid militaristic and other loaded rhetoric in favour of language that emphasises unity and resilience as a means of recovery.
  • Transparency. Leaders should be transparent about the city’s response. This is crucial for maintaining credibility with and the trust of affected communities. As the city identifies lessons learned from its response, these should be shared with the public.
  • Protect communities from potential backlash. Specific communities will be more vulnerable to backlash than others following an attack. For example, it has been documented that anti-Muslim hate crimes often increase dramatically following Islamist terror attacks. Mayors should work with law enforcement to understand and prepare for these risks against potential target communities by including emergency plans in their response priorities. These plans should account for how to best ensure the physical safety of vulnerable groups and prevent sentiments of retaliation among citizens. One way a mayor can support this is by clearly stating that they stand behind all communities in the city and that the perpetrator does not represent anyone who lives peacefully in the city.

It is also imperative to tailor communications to evolving needs as the city moves from the immediate aftermath to response and then on to recovery. 

In the immediate aftermath of an incident, there are three phases to bear in mind and guide decision-making and communications: 

  • Immediate reaction and engagement 
  • First official statement and/or appearance 
  • First direct engagements

Effective communications during these three phases (elaborated below) are crucial for reestablishing safety and security in the immediate aftermath, as well as the transparency and trust needed to support longer-term rebuilding and resiliency.

By taking a proactive role in communicating with the public, the mayor can shape the narrative to promote unity, resilience and community support. Effective management of disinformation ensures that reliable information reaches the public, mitigating panic and facilitating a coordinated response.

Representative, City of Sarajevo (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

Phases of post-incident communication

There are three primary phases of post-incident communication. Communications should align with the priorities set following the attack and be consistent across the phases to provide messaging that informs, reassures and builds trust. 

Phase 1: Immediate reaction and engagement

Whether in person or through their team, the mayor will need to ensure that the
city’s residents are informed about the situation and the city’s response, managing insecurity and expectations. In the immediate aftermath of an attack or during a crisis, it is important to focus on providing safety guidance, as well as official updates on the event and the local authority’s response. This could be done in cooperation with local media, via the mayor’s official social media channels and/or through any other available rapid communication channels.

To help the population regain a sense of control, the information shared should be timely, clear, concise, relevant, non-contradictory, accessible to all those impacted and generated from credible sources. In the immediate aftermath, providing safety guidance, updates on those in danger and how to get practical help are essential.

Phase 2: First official statement and/or appearance

It is essential for the mayor to get their first official public statement and/or
appearance right, as people will hold them accountable for their words and reactions. While the immediate situation will feel all-encompassing, it is important to plan strategically for the medium- and long-term to ensure early communications can support future rebuilding efforts. A mayor should aim to communicate strength while promoting a unified response. Mayors have shared some tips for how to approach a post-incident statement.

  • Speak out explicitly against hate, violence and extremism; make it clear that they have no place in the city and will not win.
  • Call for unity, reasserting the city’s inclusive identity and calling on residents
    to come together and find strength in one another. 
  • Focus statements on the city and its communities rather than giving a platform to the perpetrator(s), their motives or manifesto. Avoid saying the perpetrator’s
    name so as not to glorify them with notoriety or martyrdom (something perpetrators often long for), especially if they are operating in radicalised spaces online. 
  • Avoid militaristic or reactionary language that heightens feelings of fear and antagonism. Recognise the profound sense of violation and anger people experience after an attack but be mindful not to inflame tensions with calls for retaliation.
  • Diffuse tensions and the potential for retaliation based on race, ethnicity, religion or tribe. If members of a specific community carried out the attack, be mindful of potential backlash against that community. 

Phase 3: First direct engagements

The mayor’s initial engagements will be equally important in demonstrating their priorities. For example, whom the mayor visits first (for example, survivors in hospital, other institutions related to the target of the attack, schools), which media outlets they talk to and the potential political allegiances that might demonstrate. The mayor should ensure that their actions are consistent and in line with the priorities they have set from the beginning of their term.

Then Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Adern speaking at a press conference, March 2019

Empathise and Unify

Following mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch (New Zealand), which killed more than 50 people, and injured a further 50, then-Prime Minister Jacinda Arden held a press conference, describing the attack as “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence” and “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”. 

  • Resist war rhetoric. Prime Minister Arden’s statement focused on those impacted, giving almost no platform to the perpetrator himself, in contrast to other post-attack responses which have been more militaristic or reactionary, which can heighten feelings of fear and antagonism. She recognised the profound sense of violation and anger people experience after an attack but did not inflame tensions (e.g., no calls for retaliation through warfare or crackdowns on civil liberties). 
  • Avoid saying the perpetrator’s name. Prime Minister Ardern made a point of referring to the shooter in the abstract to avoid glorifying him. While the primary aim was to avoid rewarding him with notoriety or martyrdom, which attackers often long for (especially if radicalised and operating online), this strategy also avoided creating an “us” versus “them” narrative.
  • Unite people through a call to action. While noting that white nationalism was a growing issue (even though the perpetrator was Australian), Ardern encouraged all nations to respond and create an environment where such ideologies cannot flourish. Through initiatives like the Christchurch Call she “succeeded in ‘othering’ the terrorist, but not by treating him as an emissary from a hostile outside world”.
South Florida Mayors speaking at a press conference, December 2023

South Florida Mayors Present United Front Against Anti-Semitism

In December 2023, following rising spike in antisemitism, made worse by local impacts of the Israel-Gaza crisis, a group of Miami-Dade County (Florida, United States) mayors joined together to present a united front to the community. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez noted the challenge facing local governments: “All of the elected officials who are here are struggling to figure out, day in and day out, how to make sure that we can project safety, deliver safety and take away that sense of fear that is in the hearts of so many people in our community”. North Miami Mayor Alix Desulme said, “[w] e say unequivocally that North Miami condemns all forms of hate, antisemitism, bigotry and violence”. 

  • Clarity of message. Antisemitism will not be condoned. 
  • United front. Mayors from 15 municipalities came together.
  • Consistency. Unity was reflected in consistent messaging.
Mayor of L’Hay-les-Roses, Vincent Jeanbrun, addresses an anti-violence march and rally, July 2023

A Call for Unity and Calm Amid National Riots 

In July 2023, the Mayor of L’Hay-les-Roses, Vincent Jeanbrun, led an anti-violence march and rally in his town (south of Paris, France) holding a banner reading “Together for the Republic”, a call for unity and calm following a week of riots across France. The previous evening, rioters had rammed a flaming vehicle into his house, injuring his wife and one of his children. Mayor Jeanbrun was joined by President of the Metropol of Grand Paris and Mayor of Rueil Malmaison Patrick Ollier (L), President of the French right-wing party Les Republicains and MP Éric Ciotti, French President of the Senate Gerard Larcher and Ile-de-France Region President Valérie Pecresse. The anti-violence rally was one of many demonstrations in front of town halls, part of nationwide local action following the riots. 

  • Local visibility. Rally held in the town’s main market square, the heart/gathering point of the town. 
  • United front. Representatives of all the major political parties united for a clarion call for calm.
  • Deescalate. Rather than call for retribution, it was a call to action for calm, unity and public order. 

Following a 2021 deadly knife attack in Wuerzburg (Germany), Mayor Christian Schuchardt spoke at a memorial service for the victims. The attack was carried out by a young Somali man at a time when there was widespread tension across Europe regarding refugees. Anticipating potential backlash against the city’s Somali community, the mayor urged that “the crimes of individuals should never be ascribed or extended to ethnic groups, religions or nationalities” and asked that Somali refugees not be blamed. 

Bavaria Governor Markus Soeder added to this plea, emphasising that “we must never answer such a hate-filled deed with hatred or revenge”. After noting that online conversations had highlighted the perpetrator’s immigrant background, the Governor asked the city’s residents “but didn’t people with an immigrant background also help in exactly the same situation?” 

In 2022, the Strong Cities Network and the Bertlesmann Foundation created a graphic animation, narrated by former Mayor Bill Peduto, on his experience and key decision points during and in the wake of the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue attack.

Advice from Mayor Bill Peduto on communicating following a hate-motivated attack

In October 2018, a man entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania, United States), Pennsylvania, and opened fire on congregants during Shabbat celebrations, killing 11 people and wounding six others, including four police officers. It was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history. Former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, now a Senior Adviser to the Strong Cities Network, shared his experience and his response decision points: 

  1. Have multiple communication devices and mechanisms that work on
    different sources (i.e., phone signal, ethernet, radio frequency) for both internal and external communications. During the attack, Mayor Peduto wanted to communicate as much as possible with the public, inspired by the response to the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, but the phone network went down priorities of those impacted and his public information officer was unable to use his phone.
  2. Be transparent and upfront with the public regarding the official response.
    Even if there’s nothing new to say, say there is nothing new to say.
  3. Be transparent about your top priorities in the immediate term to manage expectations. Mayor Peduto told the public up front that his first priority would be the victims and the families; second, those who were wounded; third, the Jewish community; fourth, the greater Pittsburgh community.
  4. Use your priorities to guide all future actions. Following the attack, there was an idea to close a major road in front of the synagogue. The Public Safety Director did not want to because it was a major route to several hospitals. As families of the victims were his first priority, Mayor Peduto asked them what they wanted. They wanted the road open, so it stayed open.
  5. Remember, trauma can have unexpected ramifications. Even if there is somebody who lives 15 miles away from an attack, who is not a member of the targeted group and has no connection to the incident, they can be affected by that trauma.
  6. Do not politicise the event. There will always be opportunities to talk about the political ramifications and legislation that could help prevent future attacks. However, immediately following an attack is not the time.

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