You have experience in dealing with terrorism-related situations, you have experience in providing administrative and human assistance

January 2015 – France is hit by a series of terrorist attacks. In these dramatic circumstances, by the decision of the Prime Minister, the Crisis and Support Center of the French MFA is made responsible for providing assistance to the families of the victims of these terrorist attacks. For having long-standing experience of providing assistance to French nationals abroad, the staff of the CDSC were able to put their expertise to the service of their fellow countrymen struck by terror on national soil.

A government-wide process was conducted in the following months with a view to providing for a structured, robust response to such crises happening on national soil. Key to this was the capacity to inform the public, as well as answer queries from relatives of victims and provide them with assistance. The outcome of this process was the creation of the Interministerial Support Unit for Victims of terrorism (“Cellule interministérielle d’aide aux victimes” – CIAV) on 12 November 2015.

This taskforce, located within the MFA, is activated by decision of the Prime Minister and placed under the authority of the head of the CDCS.
It is tasked with providing assistance to the relatives of victims of terror attacks conducted on French territory and coordinating actions by the relevant ministerial departments, in conjunction with the judicial authority and victims associations.

Paris and Nice attacks

The CIAV, new monitoring system for victims and their families

By a tragic coincidence, the CIAV was activated less than a day after it was created, in the night from 13 to 14 November 2015 in response to terrorist attacks of unprecedented magnitude in Saint-Denis and Paris.

As soon as information about the first events broke, staff from the CDCS spontaneously got to the Quai d’Orsay while others were called-up to the inter-agency crisis unit set up at the Ministry of Interior.
Swift reaction was of the essence at the CDCS to operationalize the newly created CIAV as a response tool.

In just a few hours, all personnel from the three participating ministerial departments (Interior, Justice, Health) were up-and-running and ready to coordinate a common response. Setting aside their distinctive professional allegiances and habits, they immediately pulled together their expertise and demonstrated an acute sense of solidarity in the face of events affecting hundreds.

As early as 14 November, an « assistance center for relatives » was set-up at Ecole Militaire in the 7th district of Paris, as foreseen in the terms of reference of the CIAV.

The CDSC personnel were there, alongside police teams, magistrates, members of the medical and psychological emergency unit, paramedics, Red Cross volunteers and victims support associations. Inside the MAF, a hotline was set up with the teams from other ministries and the help of Red Cross volunteers, in order to centralize families’ calls.

Until the national tribute was held 14 days later, for over two weeks, more than a hundred and fifty staff members from various French government services and volunteers stayed inside the CDCS, the assistance centre for relatives or the forensic institute 24 hours a day to help the victims and their families.

A few days later, on the 20th of November 2015, another tragic event occurred: the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako. The CDCS teams, in coordination with the French Embassy in Mali, handled this event at the same time.

With this first call to action during an emergency situation, there were lessons to be learned following this crisis. It was time to reflect on the functioning of the process, and the ways to improve it, anticipate crises scenarios and answers, in particular if an attack occurred outside Paris.

Paris and Nice attacks

CIAV teams on the ground in a few hours

The feedback following the November attacks was unfortunately useful. On 14 July 2016, the CIAV was again called to action to handle the attack in Nice.

To support the Alpes-Maritimes prefecture, the CIAV dispatched a special unit to Nice and set up a hotline in Paris. On the ground, many other teams were by their side to support victims’ relatives: the Medical and Psychological unit, the prefecture, the local and regional authorities, the Nice city staff, victims and victims’ relatives support associations and Guarantee Fund experts.

During almost three weeks, the CDCS staff remained mobilized in the assistance center for relatives, the forensic institute of Nice and the operational center of the prefecture.