Respond, [...] reassure, inform...

If a crisis happens abroad – such as a natural disaster, terrorist attack, plane crash, serious socio-political tensions, etc. – and French nationals’ safety is threatened, a crisis unit is activated at the Crisis and Support Centre (CDCS). This decision is taken in conjunction with the embassy and consulate. Humanitarian aid for local populations may also be deployed if the country requests assistance.

On call 24/7

The CDCS’s monitoring service, which runs day and night, issues the alert. The on-call manager, who becomes the crisis director, immediately mobilizes the on-call staff. The unit is quickly operational, whether its services are needed day or night and even weekends. It operates 24/7 for as long as the situation requires it.
The main priority is to better understand the situation as quickly as possible and to work with the local diplomatic post to identify the potential French victims or nationals needing assistance.

Complementary skill sets

All staff members who are called to action have a specific assignment. They perform a range of complementary roles that cover:
- monitoring of the situation
- follow-up with the victims to establish victim lists and assist families
- logistics
- management of CDCS teams to ensure constant coverage
- preparing media communication, including on social platforms
- healthcare-related expertise
- other expertise depending on the crisis

All staff work out of a single location with a crisis manager, supported by an assistant and a coordinator. Staff from other ministries may also be mobilized (Ministries of Justice, of the Interior, for Health, etc.) as well as representatives from victims’ associations or victim support associations.

When necessary, the crisis unit will also open a hotline to keep families informed. The hotline unit is covered by volunteers from the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the French Red Cross to provide back-up support to the diplomatic post. Families’ contact information is kept on file so they can be informed as soon as the person they are looking for has been located.

Support in the field

Support in the field

Reinforcement teams may be dispatched to the affected country if requested by the local posted diplomats. These teams include CDCS staff, who may be joined by civilian protection officers, military personnel, medical corps workers (doctors, psychologists, etc.), association staff and others who will support the consular teams’ efforts.

Personnal Account

Ouagadougou, 13 August 2017

Being present around the world to assist victims of terrorist attacks and their families

From Algeria to Burkina Faso, Colombia, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Tunisia and others, the list of countries hit by terrorist attacks in the past decade is long. Around fifty French nationals have been killed in various attacks since 2008. Each time, the Crisis and Support Centre (CDCS) springs to action to immediately help and support victims and their loved ones until other organizations are able to take over operations. In addition to those who are killed, numerous others are wounded. The CDCS ensures they receive medical care in the country where the attack occurred and follows up on repatriation conditions.
It is an emotionally demanding job that reflects the commitment of all those who work at the CDCS.

Ouagadougou, 13 August 2017: Catherine Gouy-Levy’s story

Ouagadougou, 13 August 2017, around 9.30pm – Armed men targeted the mainly expatriate clientele at the restaurant Istanbul in the centre of Burkina Faso’s capital. In all, 18 people were killed and a dozen wounded during this terrorist attack. Among the victims was one French national, Thierry Gouy. He sent a message to his family during the attack, and then, silence. For his loved ones, the following hours were interminable. As the night went on, they had no idea how to react and were left waiting and following the media for clues on what was happening. Early the next morning, the family received a call from a friend in Ouagadougou who gave them the terrible news. Catherine Gouy-Levy, Mr Gouy’s sister, took on the role of the family’s spokesperson. She called the Crisis and Support Centre to register and request official confirmation, still hoping on some level for a different outcome.

At the CDCS, a crisis unit had been activated since the beginning of the attack (which is the standard practice for this type of situation), remaining in constant contact with the consulate. Because the location of the attack was popular with expatriates and foreign tourists, there was a strong probability that French nationals could have been affected. Ms Gouy-Levy remembers very clearly the person who answered her call and had to find the words to confirm her brother’s death. “I felt – and still do – that my brother’s death would always be a deep source of pain for us. Our lives were forever changed.” The CDCS staff member gave her the initial information on her new “status” as a victim for her and her loved ones and asked if she had any questions. She did not, but she was “reassured to know that someone was there for us,” she recalls. If she needed anything, she could call at any time – “We’re here, day or night.

Then came the formalities. The CDCS, through the Individual Cases Unit, was there to help and make travel arrangements for loved ones in Burkina Faso and organize the repatriation of Mr Gouy’s body to France. As with any French victim of a terrorist attack abroad, a repatriation arrival ceremony for Mr Gouy was planned at the airport if the family wanted to attend. For Ms Gouy-Levy, it was a very important moment when she would have to confront the reality of her brother’s death. The family, gathered in a room of the Charles de Gaulle airport, felt both immense grief and a sense of comfort to see Mr Gouy’s memory honoured in this way. “It was very early, the sun was coming up. I wasn’t sure I would manage to keep standing to follow the procession. With all the officials, the line of law enforcement officers saluting the coffin, with the French flag covering my brother’s coffin. So many emotions. But you were there. You gave us strength, supported us in the background. We knew you were there.
I wanted to tell this story for the CDCS’s 10th anniversary, my heart goes out to all the French victims who were killed in terrorist attacks abroad, because people are not aware of this part of the CDCS’s work with the families of victims. Their benevolence is essential and invaluable.