Family Assistance Operations: Planning and Policy


Image of Planes at an airport. In 1996, the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act was enacted following several major aviation accidents in which air carriers, local responders, and federal agencies did not provide an effective coordinated effort to meet the needs of family members and survivors. The legislation requires air carriers to have plans detailing the notification to family members about an accident, the handling of manifests, the training of support personnel, the management of personal effects, and the coordination of memorials. It also tasks the NTSB with coordinating the efforts of the air carrier, local responders, and federal agencies for the family assistance response. This includes coordination for the recovery and identification of victims and the release of accident investigation information to family members while at the accident location and during the investigative process. The legislation applies to any domestic or foreign commercial aviation accidents occurring within the United States, its territories, possessions, and territorial seas and resulting in a major loss of life.

The specific sections of US Code are noted below


The NTSB Federal Family Assistance Plan for Aviation Disasters details the responsibilities of the air carrier, the NTSB, specific federal agencies, and the American Red Cross.


Rail Passenger Disaster Family Assistance

Image of Railroad passenger car.In 2008, similar legislation was passed focusing on rail passenger accidents. The Rail Passenger Disaster Family Assistance Act sets out comparable requirements for Amtrak and future intra- and interstate high-speed passenger rail operators and the NTSB.

The specific sections of US Code are noted below:


The NTSB Federal Family Assistance Plan for Rail Passenger Disasters and the Rail Task Force Final Report details the responsibilities of the air carrier, the NTSB, specific federal agencies, and the American Red Cross.


The NTSB Transportation Disaster Assistance Division has agreements with several federal agencies to support the various aspects of transportation disaster response. These agencies include:

Department of State 


Department of Health and Human Services


Federal Bureau of Investigation 


Department of Homeland Security


Department of Defense


American Red Cross


Department of Transportation


United Nations

NTSB Investigation and General Information



Transportation Disaster Assistance Training Courses


TDA offers advice and input to the transportation industry; local, state, and federal agencies; and foreign governments regarding family assistance planning. With more than 15 years of experience and hundreds of on-scene responses, TDA is a unique resource for industry and government.

In addition to providing both on-scene and remote coordination with local, state, and federal agencies, the NTSB offers guidance and training courses on transportation disaster response. These courses will better prepare emergency responders, local and state agencies and public safety personnel during transportation accidents investigated by the NTSB.

TDA provides several training courses through the NTSB Training Center in Ashburn, Virginia.

Family Assistance (TDA301): Developed for commercial transportation officials, representatives of federal agencies, staff of non-governmental relief organizations and emergency managers, this course is instrumental in understanding how any organization involved in the accident response can most effectively support the family assistance efforts.

Emergency Responders (TDA402): Designed specifically for emergency responders and planners, this course provides participants with the tools to most effectively manage a major transportation disaster. Audio/video materials, case studies, recent examples and panel discussions are employed to illustrate key principles of the unique aspects of responding to major transportation disasters.

Mass Fatality Incidents for Medicolegal Professionals (TDA403): This course examines the principles of managing the medicolegal response to transportation-related mass fatality incidents. Areas that will be addressed include managing search and recovery operations, the antemortem and postmortem data collection process, quality assurance, and interacting with family members regarding medicolegal issues.

Managing Transportation Mass Fatality Incidents (TDA 406): This course is designed specifically for the emergency management, law enforcement, and medicolegal communities. Areas that will be addressed include the core principles for managing the transition from first response and life safety operations into the disaster victim recovery and identification process.

For further assistance or questions regarding family assistance operations, please contact TDA.

Contact TDA

Toll Free - (800) 683-9369
Direct - (202) 314-6185
Fax - (202) 459-9402

Elias Kontanis, Chief

Kimberly Frierson, Coordinator
Transportation Disaster Operations

Derek Freckleton, Coordinator
Transportation Disaster Operations

Stephanie Matonek, Coordinator,
Victim Support Services

Katherine Chisom, Coordinator,
Victim Support Services

Max Green, Coordinator,
Emergency Operations

Dan Morgan, Coordinator,
Medicolegal Operations

490 L'Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20594

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