Government Resources

Government agencies and other organizations serve an important purpose in responding to aviation accidents and preserving the safety of the aircrafts that fill the skies.  The following is a list of government agencies and organizations most likely to be involved when a disaster occurs:

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

The NTSB was established in 1967 to investigate significant transportation accidents, including all U.S. civil aviation accidents.  The primary purpose of every NTSB investigation is to determine the most likely cause of an accident.  This information is used to make recommendations on how to improve safety measures.  Although many of its recommendations have led to improvements in the safety of commercial flights, the NTSB has no enforcement or regulatory power over the airline industry or manufacturers of equipment.

Besides its investigatory duties, the NTSB also provides resources to the local authorities, including family counseling, victim identification and forensic services, communications with foreign governments, and translation services.  The agency also offers Family Assistance Centers (FACs) to aid families whose loved ones were taken from them or severely injured in an accident.  NTSB agents are trained in crisis response and are able to demonstrate compassion, sympathy, professionalism, and a certain level of technical expertise over the course of their investigations.  They are also bound to keep confidential any personal information provided by family members and victims during interviews, counseling, and other exchanges.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

The FAA was established as part of Department of Transportation in 1967 with a mandate to ensure the safety of airline passengers, pilots, and crew through implementing and enforcing civil aviation regulations.  

The NTSB frequently requests the assistance of the FAA in investigating accidents.  The FAA typically gathers information on qualifications, history and proficiency of the flight crew, securing copies of airport control tower tapes and air route traffic control tapes, as well as verifying that navigational aids (NAVAIDS) functioned properly.  

Federal Bureau of Investigational Operations Center (FBI)

If the probable cause of an aviation accident is determined to be criminal, the FBI will typically assume control over the investigation from the NTSB.  The NTSB may also request the assistance of the FBI Disaster Squad, which has particular expertise in fingerprinting, in establishing positive identifications of those who lost their lives in airline accidents.  FBI investigators usually focus on assembling the evidence needed to identify and prosecute those parties whose criminal acts caused the accident.

Department of Justice (DOJ)

If the NTSB determines that an aviation disaster was caused by a criminal act, the DOJ will be responsible for disclosing information to victims and their families, as well as keeping them up to date on the progress of the criminal investigation.  In other instances, the DOJ may lead an investigation upon request by the NTSB.  For example, on September 11, 2001, the DOJ assumed control over the investigations into the four airliners involved in crashes on that date.  

Department of State (DOS)

The DOS may be designated by the NTSB to assist the families of foreign victims of commercial aviation accidents.  The DOS also provides other services, including translation assistance, conducts correspondence with foreign governments, helps maintain contact with families of victims who cannot travel to the United States, assists families of victims who wish to enter the U.S,. and collects personal information about victims to distribute to the appropriate agencies.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)

In serious aviation accidents, the DHHS is often called on by the NTSB to assist with victim identification, forensic services, and medical services.  When there are fatalities, the DHHS communicates with family members, medical examiners, airline representatives, morgue personnel, and the NTSB to ensure proper identification and handling of the victim’s remains.   The DHHS may also provide medical care for injured victims.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Upon request of the NTSB, FEMA offers communications services after an aviation accident.  The agency also might provide staffing of media support centers at sites that might garner attention from television, print, and other news media.  In addition, FEMA may be asked to facilitate the transmission of voice and data communications between personnel at the crash site and the NTSB Communications Center.  FEMA also has the capability to assist accident victims and their loved ones by providing care, translation services, or meeting other special needs.  

The American Red Cross

The NTSB and other agencies involved after an accident occurs often request the assistance of the Red Cross in coordinating support services for families of victims after an aviation disaster.  These services can include crisis and grief counseling, the coordination of childcare facilities for families who bring children to the site, and the organization of inter-faith memorial services.  Beyond providing on-site assistance, the Red Cross also refers families to mental health professionals and support groups in their local areas.  The organization can also arrange for support services to be made available locally to families that cannot travel to the disaster site.

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