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Gun Violence and Our Communities

Is Your Community Prepared?


Local government leaders share first-hand perspectives and lessons learned.

"It can happen anywhere….at any time.”

That was the key message concerning gun violence in the United States conveyed by six veteran city managers who have dealt first-hand with mass shootings in their communities. They spoke during a special forum and telephonic media event at the 99th ICMA Annual Conference.

The six participants acknowledged the magnitude of gun violence in the United States, noting that mass gun violence tragedies can occur in any community on any day, most recently on September 16, with the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard shooting.

Key recommendations shared by panelists included:

  • Recognize the importance of active shooter training for law enforcement personnel.
  • Prepare for diversity. Employ multilingual personnel. Have access to interpreters or the AT&T language line.
  • Keep your community informed. Develop a crisis communications plan.
  • Designate a single spokesperson and maintain maximum availability to media.
  • Put victims first. Provide support for victims and their families.  
  • Maintain an accurate inventory of supplies (i.e., food and water) for first responders.
  • Manage donations and peoples’ need to give.
  • In a multi-agency response situation, get everyone on the same page and stay organized.
  • To balance the distinct role that law enforcement and first responders must play, local government leaders should act with compassion, empathy, and understanding.
  • Remember that sometimes the most appropriate response does not always follow protocol.
  • Employees and first responders also need information, support, and reassurance. Everyone must be allowed to grieve.
  • After the incident, develop and implement a long-term resiliency effort to help the community move forward.

Each panelist shared a personal point of view on the tragedies their community experienced:

Ron Carlee, city manager, Charlotte, North Carolina
(moderator), who previously served as county manager of Arlington County, Virginia (pop. 220,000), and who had local responsibility for managing the response to the 9/11/01 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

“The diversity of communities that have experienced a major incident of gun violence undeniably demonstrates that it can happen anywhere at any time.  It is critical that every local government take advantage of the experiences of others and develop contingency plans to deal with the unthinkable.”

George "Skip" Noe, city manager, Aurora, Colorado
(pop. 340,000), where, on July 20, 2012, James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 in a mass shooting at a Century 16 movie theater.

“Aurora’s story is one of the resilience of people. Throughout this entire tragic event, the people of Aurora have determined that we will not allow one isolated act of violence to either define or limit us as a community. By following the lead of the victims and supporting one another, we continue to find the right path forward in the healing process.”

Gerald “Jerry” Peterson, city administrator, Oak Creek, Wisconsin
(pop. 34,700), where, on August 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page killed six worshippers and wounded four others at a Sikh Temple before taking his own life.

"We can't control whether these events will happen in our community, but we can and must have an appropriate and measured response to reassure the victims in our community that we will be all right and will not be defined by the tragedy."

Deanna Santana, city administrator, Oakland, California
(pop. 396,000), where, on April 2, 2012, suspected shooter One L. Goh killed seven people and injured three others at Oakland’s Oikos University.

“Although Oakland is no stranger to the ravages of gun violence, the mass shooting at Oikos University was unprecedented for our city in its violence and senselessness. I was proud of the professional, speedy response of the Oakland Police Department that day, and we were grateful for the rapid assistance of eight local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Together we brought the shooter into custody quickly and without further incident. These types of events underscore how important it is for a community to come together during the immediate response and its aftermath.”

Daniel Singer, city manager, Goleta, California
(pop. 31,000), where, on January 30, 2006, Jennifer San Marco killed a former neighbor and then five former coworkers and herself at the city’s Postal Service mail sorting plant.

“When tragedy strikes, cities have an important role to play. As the level of government that most closely represents and reflects the community, it is our responsibility to be the voice of comfort, compassion and resilience.”

Rudolph Smith, city manager, Norcross, Georgia 
(pop. 15,500), a diverse community where, on February 21, 2012, Jeong Soo Paek killed his two sisters and their husbands before taking his own life at the Su Jung Health Sauna.

"It's especially important in a diverse community to be prepared to communicate with all residents who might be touched by a violent incident. It's crucial to build relationships and trust with local leaders, churches, and other institutions before something happens so that you have the resources, such as translators, to respond effectively in a crisis."

The speakers who participated in the special forum and media call were just a few of the more than 3,500 key decision makers and guests from local governments throughout the world who gathered at the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center.

Access more information, including video and audio files; a related article written by moderator Ron Carlee, “Gun Violence: Management Steps to Take Now”; and other resources. 

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