Preparing for the Unimaginable:
How Chiefs Can Safeguard Officer Mental Health
Before and After Mass Casualty Events

Resource Overview

The purpose of this interactive publication is to provide expert advice and practical tips that law enforcement executives can implement to safeguard officer mental health before and after a mass casualty event.

The guidance, including the personal contributions of four police chiefs and numerous officers who have lived through such incidents, can help officers to heal emotionally, manage the public, deal with the media, build relationships with other first responder agencies, and much more.

About This Resource

Though most agencies have trained and equipped their officers for immediate response to mass casualties, few have prepared their personnel for the psychological fallout. Tragic events can have a profound effect on first responders, who may suffer emotional distress that lingers long afterward.

To help the Newtown (Connecticut) Police Department cope with the murder of 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the COPS Office reached out to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in 2013 to provide guidance. Preparing for the Unimaginable is the result of NAMI’s work with Newtown’s then police chief, Michael Kehoe.

The unique publication includes the personal contributions of four police chiefs and numerous officers who have lived through traumatic incidents and have shared their experiences, and it features current interviews with several of the original publication contributors.

This interactive e-Guide is based on the 2016 written publication of the same name, which was funded by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office). The online version you are accessing has been created by the Virginia Center for Policing Innovation (VCPI) via cooperative agreement number 2018-CK-WXK001 awarded by the COPS Office.

Primary Audience

The intended audience for this interactive publication is anyone interested in safeguarding the mental health of law enforcement professionals. While events like Sandy Hook have raised awareness of the challenges that officers face, the day-to-day impact of police work is much greater. Fortunately, there are many steps that law enforcement leaders can take now to build resilient agencies, whether or not they ever experience a mass casualty incident.  There are also ways to prepare for the possibility of such an incident. This guide can serve as a resource for agencies interested in getting started.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.


Laura Usher; Stefanie Friedhoff; Sam Cochran; Anand Pandya