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‘Not if, but when’: SLO County to hire advocate for mass shooting victims

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The City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security produced this video that explains what to do if there is an active shooter in your area.​

With local officials saying it’s only a matter of time before another mass shooting or mass casualty event happens in or around the area, San Luis Obispo County will hire a full-time employee to focus on victims’ needs in such a scenario’s immediate aftermath.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the new position as part of a grant package for the District Attorney’s Office‘s Victim’s Witness Assistance Program, which includes $100,000 to fund the position.

As a result of the increasing number of mass shootings in California and across the country, the state’s Office of Emergency Services is offering each county an additional $100,000 on an ongoing basis to support the hire of a full-time “mass victimization advocate.”

The new hire will join the District Attorney’s Office’s Victim’s Witness Assistance Program, where he or she will work with other advocates in the region to prepare a coordinated community response to such events as the Borderline Bar and Grill shooting in Thousand Oaks, some 150 miles from San Luis Obispo.

“In developing this grant opportunity, Cal OES has recognized that ‘it is not if, but when’ such an event will occur, and that a collaborative regional effort is necessary for a quick and effective response,” a county staff report reads. “Cal OES strongly encourages counties to accept funding.”

Specifically, the mass victimization advocates’ jobs are to prepare county Victim Witness centers across the state to ready a coordinated response — in some cases, sending mutual aid resources to neighboring counties in the region — to attend to victims’ needs following a mass casualty event.

The plan is for advocates in Kern, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties to develop a regional mutual aid memorandum of understanding “in an effort to leverage resources to facilitate a regional response to mass victimization/terrorism incident,” according to a San Luis Obispo County District Attorney staff report.

“The idea is to be very proactive,” Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth, who wrote the county’s grant request, said Thursday.

The advocate will receive training in death notifications, psychological first aid, vicarious trauma and grief and recovery, as well as other training from the California Crime Victim Assistance Association, FEMA and RISE.

The person will also conduct community outreach and facilitate the purchase of needed resources, such as emergency “go-bags.”

The staff report says that the new advocate will focus on mass criminal victimization, such as shootings, but may also assist in natural disaster events such as the Montecito mudslides and the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland.

Dobroth, who worked as a prosecutor in Ventura County from 1998 to 2005, said Thursday that the day after he finished the county’s proposal for the grant, he woke up to the news of the Thousand Oaks shooting in text messages from officials and former colleagues.

Dobroth said he previously worked with Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus; the officer was shot multiple times and died from his wounds after confronting the shooter at the Borderline Bar and Grill.

The news came as a shock, he said, adding that such events have become so pervasive.

Dobroth said the benefit of having a full-time advocate is that a support mechanism will be in place “so no time is lost.”

“It’s a matter of, it happens, we’re ready, we’re engaged,” he said. “It’s not if it happens, it’s when it happens.”

The position is expected to be filled in January.

Hundreds of students walk out of class at San Luis Obispo High School as part of the National Walkout for Gun Safety on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. The 17-minute protests unfolded at hundreds of schools across the country.

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