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A Guide For City-Led Response

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Chapter 5: Post-Incident Support

Use the momentum of social solidarity in the initial days to lay the foundations for professional support that survivors may need in the future. Survivors’ needs will change over time and should be monitored and acknowledged constantly through mechanisms such as annual public meetings and open houses chaired by the mayor, professional support groups and working groups. This provides ongoing opportunities for direct mayoral leadership and allows for a sense of shared responsibility, the development of community-led solutions, an opportunity to troubleshoot issues and re-introduce existing resources, and strategies for how to best fill gaps.

Access to Information

Ensuring ongoing post-incident support and consistent, accessible information for all affected is crucial. A good practice for local governments is to establish a single, central office (some term this a ‘one-stop-shop’ or a centralised information or assistance centre) to make accessing information and support as straightforward as possible for survivors, communities and front-line workers (for example, law enforcement, healthcare, educational, security and relief professionals). Where possible, local governments should then also leverage the support of civil society organisations operating in the city/region to augment available support on a needs-basis and in the longer-term. This can include inter alia referrals to support services such as bereavement counselling and mental health support, such as confidential support lines, live chat services, and local therapy clinics. 

Ensuring that all communities are aware of available support is crucial. Awareness and coordination should also be conducted around charitable funds, government welfare and social support services for carers, people with disabilities and vulnerable groups, including children, youth, minorities, refugees, asylum seekers and foreign nationals.

To this end, an online/digital resource (multilingual and accessible) that is widely promoted and publicised to all communities (including remote or otherwise hard to reach) is also advised. This platform can also be leveraged to maintain an on-going dialogue between relevant city offices, law enforcement and those affected, including inter alia regular updates about investigations, details of compensation schemes, links to local/state/national resources and support, noting that long-term, regular communication with survivors can support them in their recovery.

Access to Justice

Seeing justice served is important for those impact in coming to terms with what has happened. Although an investigation, prosecution and sentencing of the perpetrator(s) does not compensate for the harm done, it can offer survivors a degree of recognition. A trial can also bring to light information and context needed for a full understanding of the events leading up to, during and following the attack, which can facilitate closure for some survivors and their families. 

Access to justice is a fundamental human right and a principle of the rule of law. This includes inter alia the right to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy. While providing adequate avenues for people to exercise these rights through the judicial system is often within the jurisdiction of state and national governments (i.e., not within the mandate of a mayor or local government), local officials can provide support for residents by advocating at the state and national levels where needed. 


Following an attack or incident where there are victims and survivors, it is common for spontaneous memorials to appear and become a gathering point for those wishing to grieve and memorialise those lost. Over time, local governments may consider erecting a permanent memorial, although decisions to do so will appropriately be shaped and guided by cultural norms. 

Where a local government has decided to construct a permanent memorial, it is good practice to engage the survivors, families and communities in the creative process, to ensure that decisions surrounding memoralisation and commemoration are inclusive and respectful of all affected communities, rather than something that can divide communities. Memorials can also advertently or inadvertently shape the narrative of the attack, the response and how the city recovered and rebuilt. They can also serve a prevention function, a reminder to future generations of the impact of violence, with many cities engaging schools in commemorative activities to ensure future learning.

Utøya Memorial Site at Utøyakaia

The Utøya Memorial Site at Utøyakaia was opened in June 2022 by Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. Designed to remember each of the 77 victims of the July 2011 terrorist attack, the memorial features 77 large bronze pillars that form a curved question mark, one pillar for each victim. At the base of the steps are 77 narrow bronze columns, with the first curved arc aimed at the sun as it stood in the sky when the bomb exploded in Oslo. The second arc is aimed at the sun as it stood in the sky during the attack on Utoya.

The process to design and build the memorial was long and complex, with the first site proposed abandoned after fierce local opposition. The second site selected was also the subject of legal challenge from locals concerned that tourists would overwhelm what is a quiet, rural setting, and from others (including some who had taken part in rescue efforts following the attack) concerned that the memorial would prolong their trauma. In February 2021, a Norwegian court ruled in favour of building the memorial. 

Transforming Utøya Island

The island of Utøya, the site where so many, mostly young people, lost their lives in the same 2011 attack, has been transformed into a space that tells the story of that day, commemorates those who were lost, and – crucially – serves as a centre for learning, where youth can engage on topics of democracy, social cohesion and community resilience. The architects and the island’s custodians undertook extensive consultations with survivors, families and communities, as well as assembling a panel of advisers from New York’s September 11 Memorial Museum and the Pentagon Memorial to advise based on their respective processes. 

While many survivors wanted the island’s café, where so many young people had been murdered, to be torn down, grieving parents wanted it to remain. The architects reflected those different needs through the concept of Hegnhuset (meaning “safeguarded house”, protecting both the building and the democratic ideals it embodies). A pavilion shields views of the café from those who don’t want to be reminded; inside the café, for those who want to learn more, the story unfolds via a visual timeline. There is also a memorial on the island: a large steel ring, suspended from trees in a clearing overlooking the water that laps on the island’s shores. The ring is inscribed with the names of the victims. 

Reclaiming the Finish Line 

The memorial to the Boston Marathon Bombing was built at two distinct locations near the Marathon’s finish line, separated by a city block, marking the locations where two pressure cooker bombs were detonated in 2013. Each feature granite pillars ringed by bronze and glass spires meant to bathe the sites in warm white light. Cherry trees bloom each April during the anniversary, and two modest bronze bricks have been set in the sidewalk to honour the police officers killed in the bombing’s aftermath. Around the base of the two pillars is an inscription etched in bronze: “Let us climb, now, the road to hope.”

From Spontaneous Memorials to the Forêt de Soignes

Following the 2016 Brussels (Belgium) attacks, the community established many spontaneous memorials. Permanent memorials were then built, including the Flame of Hope, a sculpture in Molenbeek’s Municipal Square, a memorial plaque in the departure hall of Brussels Airport, and a Memorial Garden, with a plaque listing the names of victims who died at the airport. Thirty-two birch trees, one for each victim, were planted in a forest outside of Brussels, the trees representing people standing in a circle holding hands, surrounding a stone circle, encircled by water. 

A Glade of Light 

The Glade of Light monument honours those who died in the Manchester Arena bombing (United Kingdom). A white marble ‘halo’ bears the names of those who died and, in 2022, relatives of the victims made memory capsules holding mementos which were then embedded in the memorial. The monument includes native plants that will provide year-round colour, and a tree in the centre of the monument selected to bloom around the May anniversary of the attack.

Reclaiming the Day

The Highland Park City Council (Illinois, United States) honoured the first anniversary of the attack on an Independence Day Parade in 2022 with a day of healing. The service started with a memorial ceremony, followed by a walk down the parade route, ending with a drone show instead of fireworks (the latter which may trigger trauma). Mayor Nancy Rotering said “[i]t was important for us to say that evil doesn’t win, and this is our parade route, and this is our community that we are taking back”. Mayor Rotering led a consultative, multilingual process with bereaved families and survivors before finalising plans for a permanent memorial. A rose garden is serving as a temporary memorial for the community.

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