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A Guide For City-Led Response

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Mayors, other local officials, and the governments they lead, have key roles to play in mounting an effective and inclusive response following an attack or crisis. It is pivotal that city leaders understand and respond accordingly to the trauma and deep societal cleavages that can divide and polarise communities in the wake of attacks. Communities, no matter how resilient, require strong leadership to help them heal and recover, and local governments are uniquely positioned to lead a response that reestablishes public safety and promotes healing and recovery. 

This Guide is intended to identify the key roles and responsibilities that mayors and other sub-national leaders and local officials can and must play in the immediate aftermath and longer-term to stabilise, reassure and support their constituents, and the mechanisms, partnerships, protocols and considerations that can help mitigate the impacts of such attacks or crises, and rebuild the resilience of their communities. 

A mayor needs to approach response planning as if an attack is a matter of when rather than if. They need to chart out an effective, sensitive and proportional response following a hate- or violent extremism-motivated attack, including:

  • Ensuring local actors are all aware of response plans and understand the chain
    of command, their role and whom to contact in a range of different scenarios. 
  • Coordinating between local actors, as well as with national response teams, to meet the varied local needs while minimising duplication.
  • Communicating with the public to prevent panic, shape the narrative around the incident and minimise space for misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy narratives.
  • Different means of providing support and comfort to residents, giving particular attention to communities directly targeted by the attack.
  • Strategies to mitigate psychosocial and economic fallout in the medium- to long-term.

A mayor is uniquely placed to understand the threats facing their city and coordinate a response sensitive to the individual needs of different communities. Every city is different and every mayor will need to take a tailored approach to serve its residents effectively. However, they do not have to stand alone. Mayors worldwide are facing similar challenges and can learn from each other’s experiences and draw strength from one another. This Guide is merely a starting point for mayors to learn lessons from fellow local leaders who may have experienced and had to respond to a hate or violent extremist attack in their city: we encourage you to go beyond this resource and connect with them and other local leaders who might have developed contingency plans should their city be the location of the next attack. 

This Guide, as with all other Strong Cities tools, will be housed in the Strong Cities Resource Hub. It will be a living document, added to and updated based on the Network’s engagement with mayors and cities, and serving as a starting point for mayors and local officials as they develop their response plans. The City-Led Response Guide is central to Strong Cities’ ongoing efforts to build a community of practice between local leaders that crosses national and regional boundaries and transcends differences in context and resourcing, with the basic aim of sharing experiences, good practices and key learnings, in order to unlock and catalyse city-led response. 

Annex I: City Contributions/References

Alexandria (Virginia)United States
Aurora (Colorado)United States
Boston (Massachusetts)United States
Buffalo (New York)United States
Cape TownSouth Africa
ChristchurchNew Zealand
ColomboSri Lanka
Dayton (Ohio)United States
Denver (Colorado)United States
El Paso (Texas)United States
Greater ManchesterUnited Kingdom
Highland Park (Illinois)United States
Kenosha (Wisconsin)United States
KumanovoNorth Macedonia
Las Vegas (Nevada)United States
Lewiston (Maine)United States
LondonUnited Kingdom
Miami-Dade County (Florida)United States
Minneapolis (Minnesota)United States
New York City (New York)United States
Newtown (Connecticut)United States
Orlando (Florida)United States
Parkland (Florida)United States
Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaUnited States
San Diego (California)United States
Santa Fe (Texas)United States
SarajevoBosnia & Herzegovina
StanwellUnited Kingdom
ZamboangaThe Philippines
Zarqa Jordan

Annex II: Resources

Companion Guides

Strong Cities Network (2023). A Guide for Mayors: Preventing and Responding to Hate, Extremism and Polarisation.

Strong Cities Network (2023). A Guide For Cities: Preventing Hate, Extremism & Polarisation. Strong Cities Network.

Strong Cities Network (2018). Responding to a Terror Attack.

Event Reports

Strong Cities Network (2023). Event Report: ESA Regional Hub: Preventing and Responding to Hate- and Extremist-Motivated Violence in South Africa.

Strong Cities Network (2022). Event Report: Communications and Psychosocial Support in the Aftermath of a Terror Attack or Act of Violent Extremism.

Strong Cities Network (2022). Event Report: Transatlantic Dialogue Initiative: Responding to Extremist and Hate-Motivated Violence.

Strong Cities Network (2022). Event Report: Transatlantic Dialogue Initiative: Strengthening City-Level Cooperation against Extremist and Hate-Motivated Violence: US – Nordic Experiences.

Strong Cities Network (2023). Event Report: Transatlantic Initiative: Responding to Extremist and Hate-Motivated Violence.

Guide Overview

UK National Protective Security Authority (2023). Crisis Management for Terrorist Related Events.

UNOCT/UNCCT (2022). Crisis Communications Toolkit.

Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF). Antalya Memorandum on the Protection of Soft Targets in a Counterterrorism Context.

UNOCT (2023). Threat to vulnerable targets.

Chapter 1: Mayoral Leadership in Response 

Strong Cities Network. National-Local Cooperation.

Christchurch Call to Eliminate Terrorist & Violent Extremist Content Online.

OSCE. (2020) Understanding Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes Addressing the Security Needs of Muslim Communities: A Practical Guide.

Strong Cities Network & Bertlesmann Foundation. (2022) Stronger Than Hate (graphic animation).

Chapter 2: Community Engagement 

Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF). Good Practices on Community Engagement and Community-Oriented Policing as Tools to Counter Violent Extremism.

Multiple Authors. (2014) After Action Report for the Response to the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings.

US Department of Justice. (2018) Rescue, Response, and Resilience: An incident review of the Orlando public safety response to the attack on the Pulse nightclub.

Helsinki Safe City Network.

Fondation Jean-Jaures. (2020) State of play of discrimination and racist attacks against Muslims in France.

Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. How to Cope with Traumatic Events.

Oxford University Press Academic Insights. (2020) The emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on teenagers.

University of Manchester. (2010 – 2021) Multilingual Manchester.

New York City Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes. (2024) Community Project Grants to Prevent and Eliminate Bias and Hate.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020) Communicating in a Crisis.

UK Government. (2022) Guidance: Advice on how to support a victim of terrorism.

Department of Justice Canada. (2021) Working with Victims of Crimes: A Manual Applying Research to Clinical Practice (2nd Ed).

Bernadette Hyland-Wood, John Gardner, Julie Leask and Ullrich K. H. Ecker. (2021) Toward effective government communication strategies in the era of COVID-19.

University of Cambridge/ESRC. (2016) Media fuelling rising hostility towards Muslims in Britain

Chapter 4: Psychosocial Support 

Department of Justice Canada. (2021) Working with Victims of Crimes: A Manual Applying Research to Clinical Practice (2nd Ed).

UNODC (2018). Module 14: Victims of Terrorism.

Aarhus University. (2017) Breivik terrorist attacks in Norway led to mental illness in Denmark.

OCHA, Inter-Agency Standing Committee. (2007) Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings.

US Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime. (Updated 2016) Responding to September 11 Victims: Lessons Learned from the States.

OneWorldStrong, ResilienceNet Mobile App.

OneWorldStrong, Unbroken Cities Network.

Rachel Almeida and Ania Moroz. (2017) Responding to Terror Attacks: Providing Support to those Affected in England and Wales.

SmartRiskSolutions. (2021) Handbook Crisis Management and Crisis Communications during a Terrorist Attack or Active Shooter Incident.

International Network Supporting Victims of Terrorism and Mass Violence (INVICTM). (2022) Testing Counter Terrorism Responses from a Victim and Member Wellbeing Perspective.

SAFE-COMMS. (2011) The Terrorism Crisis Communication Manual for Public Authorities.

Scandinavian Psychologist. (2015) The psychosocial follow-up after the terror of July 22nd 2011 as experienced by the bereaved.

Nora Schorscher, Maximilian Kippnich, Patrick Meybohm and Thomas Wurmb. (2022) Lessons learned from terror attacks: thematic priorities and development since 2001 – results from a systematic review.

UK Home Office. (2022) Policy Paper: Review of the Operation of the Terrorism Acts in 2018.

Chapter 5: Post-Incident Support 

EU RAN Issue Paper. (2019) Enhancing the resilience of victims after terrorist attacks.

EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. (2009) Article 47 – Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial.

OHCHR. (2005) General Assembly Resolution 60/147 (adopted 15 December 2005). Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.

Chapter 6: Preparing to Respond

SAFE-COMMS. (2011) The Terrorism Crisis Communication Manual for Public Authorities.

Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Lessons from the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks – Parts I and II.

US Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services. (2020) How to Conduct an After Action Review.

After Action Reports:

After-Action Report for the Response to the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings.

An After-Action Review of Minneapolis City Agencies’ Responses to Activities Directly Following George Floyd’s Death on May 25, 2020.

2017 Hurricane Season FEMA After-Action Report.

FEMA After-Action Report on the Las Vegas Shooting, 2017.

London now significantly better prepared for a terrorist attack | London City Hall.

The Kerslake Report: An independent review into the preparedness for, and emergency response to, the Manchester Arena attack on 22nd May 2017.

Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Attack on Christchurch Mosques on 15 March 2019.

The 22 of July Commission Releases Final Report on Norwegian Terrorist Attack.

After-Action Review: Bringing Calm to Chaos: A National Policing Institute Review of the San Bernardino Terrorist Attacks.

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