MARK BENNETT: Public health group offers cities a guide to manage what was once unthinkable | News columns

Community-focused topics fill the agenda of the annual meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors this weekend in Reno, Nevada.

They will discuss ways to implement Federal Infrastructure Act and American Rescue Plan Act funds in their cities, address mental health issues and climate change, understand cryptocurrency, provide more affordable housing and improve public safety. Mayors across the county will share information about public projects that have worked in small, medium and large cities.

Essential. Nuts and bolts stuff.

This morning, Sarah Peck will share with the assembled mayors information that once seemed unimaginable. Unfortunately, it has also become indispensable.

Peck will explain “Mass Shooting Protocol and Manual: A Resource for US Mayors and City Managers”.

“Most mayors don’t think about how they would react to a mass shooting until it happens,” said Peck, director of UnitedOnGuns, a nonpartisan initiative of Northeastern’s Public Health Advocacy Institute. Boston University School of Law. “And then they don’t realize the magnitude of their role.”

She spoke in an early Friday morning phone interview from Reno on the eve of her presentation to mayors today. Given recent events, Peck expects many of the more than 170 mayors present at the annual meeting to attend his session.

UnitedOnGuns has prepared the protocols to handle the aftermath of a mass shooting. The Institute also focuses on public health issues such as childhood obesity and tobacco control.

Peck and the initiative’s researchers created the “Mass Shooting Protocol” for city leaders after interviews in 2020 and 2021 with mayors, city staff, police chiefs, prosecutors from the city, FBI agents, and Red Cross employees from six communities that had experienced multiple-victim shootings. —Orlando, Florida; Dayton, Ohio; El Paso, TX; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Parkland, Florida; and San Bernardino, California.

The terrible cycle of violence has continued since those atrocities. Just like the inaction of Congress.

Just before their Reno meeting, the United States Conference of Mayors on Thursday reiterated a call for Congress to approve two pending bills that would require background checks for gun sales and extend the background check review period. Mayors first made the call in 2019 after the El Paso and Dayton massacres. Both bills are stalled in the US Senate, blocked by Republicans. The mayors repeated the same bipartisan demand for action from Congress this week, following the latest mass shootings.

An 18-year-old armed with an assault weapon killed 19 children and two teachers on May 31 at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Another 18-year-old gunman killed 10 people on May 14 at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY.

In their statement, the mayors said “enough is enough. We refuse to let time pass to ease the pressure on Congress to act. Unless our elected officials in Washington finally take this crisis seriously, this plague will soon strike another American city and more precious lives will be lost.

“There is no doubt that we can reduce gun violence in America without undermining people’s rights,” they continued. “It shouldn’t take courage, just a willingness to open your eyes to the carnage that is unfolding every day.”

A total of 250 mayors from the two major political parties signed the plea, including five from Indiana. Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett was not among them. “I am not a member of the United States Conference of Mayors because of their focus on major cities and their significant involvement in social issues,” Bennett said by email Thursday afternoon.

Peck’s presentation today will outline the steps needed both in the first 24 hours after a mass shooting and beyond. The publication, available free online at, offers guidance to mayors on communications coordination, emergency management, victim and family services, law enforcement, donations, community partnerships, legal issues, commemorations and mental health. The six cities’ case studies include first-hand information from mayors, city workers, first responders and relief groups.

There is also advice on dealing with dire circumstances, such as setting up safe family reunification centers immediately and providing prompt death notices, as well as long-term family assistance centers offering legal aid. , mental health resources and victim compensation experts. Mayors should address the news media and provide accurate information in a timely and responsible manner. Trauma treatment is necessary for families, but also for first responders, witnesses, general residents, journalists and others.

“That’s why it’s so important for mayors to prepare,” Peck said. “When that happens, they are the ones who are called to respond.”

The protocols focus on public health, not politics, Peck stressed. They deal with the realities of 21st century America.

“Until we [as a country] figuring out how to come together to end the mass shootings, mayors are going to respond to that,” Peck said. “We have urged Congress to act, but I really don’t know if any legislative solutions are forthcoming.

President Biden on Thursday called for congressional action to restrict access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and otherwise prevent people with mental illness from owning firearms and raise the age minimum for the purchase of assault weapons from 18 to 21. A bipartisan group of US senators is also trying to reach a compromise on measures against gun violence.

Educating the public about responsible gun ownership and its risks is also vital, Peck said. Gun deaths also occur in incidents related to gangs, drug abuse and crime. Nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States are suicides, she explained, and the presence of a gun in a household increases the likelihood of suicide. UnitedOnGuns therefore advocates safe storage measures.

“The best thing federal and state governments can do now is do what they did decades ago to educate the public about the dangers of smoking,” Peck said.

Mass shootings have become a traumatic part of the country’s overall gun violence problem.

It’s hard to imagine we’ve gotten to the point where mayors in cities and towns alike need a playbook on how to handle mass shootings.

Asked if she’s optimistic that a day will come when these guidelines will no longer be needed, Peck replied, “God willing.”

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or [email protected]