Trauma Notification Training

By Sarah R. Johnson, Ph.D.

An image of an FBI employee conducting Trauma Notification Training.

While most people may immediately think about the FBI’s investigative capabilities, assisting victims of federal crime is also central to the agency’s mission. In fact, the bureau has a division dedicated solely to this purpose.

The FBI’s Victim Services Division (VSD) plays a critical role in providing assistance and resources to crime victims and their families. Personnel inform, support, and assist victims to help them navigate the aftermath of a crime, as well as the criminal justice process, with dignity and resilience. Located in all 56 FBI field offices, these specially trained employees assist with crisis intervention; conduct forensic interviews; connect victims with counseling and/or medical services; coordinate large-scale victim management and outreach; and train, educate, and consult with internal and external partners.

During National Crime Victims’ Rights Week in late April 2024, the VSD launched its Trauma Notification Training. This training is designed for FBI personnel, other law enforcement agencies, and first responders responsible for delivering death- and trauma-related notifications to family members following a crime, mass violence or crisis event, suicide, or other type of critical incident. The goal is to ensure notifications are provided with professionalism, dignity, compassion, and without further traumatization.

Establishing the Program

In 2015, the VSD, with support from the FBI’s Office of Partner Engagement and in collaboration with Penn State University, launched “We Regret to Inform You ...” as an online death notification training module for law enforcement and victim services providers. Later, the FBI made the resource available to all first responders. As of December 2023, more than 40,000 individuals have completed this training online and more than 800 in person.

Now, the VSD, in partnership with the FBI’s Training Division and Office of Public Affairs, has rebranded the original “death notification” training to “trauma notification” because the model could be applied during other traumatic incidents. Offered both online and in person, the training includes a four-step, evidence-informed trauma notification model — 1) planning, 2) preparation, 3) delivery, and 4) follow-up — and new videos with simulated examples. These scenarios have cultural competencies as well.

Further, an app is now available on iOS and Android operating systems. It gives individuals who have completed the training course quick and easy access to the four-step trauma notification model; the VSD’s “Coping with Grief” brochure, available in 11 languages; and an online lookup feature with contact information for domestic law enforcement agencies, hospitals, coroners, and medical examiners.

VSD Victim Services Coordinator Staci Beers has been instrumental in the evolution and launch of the training and app, both of which premiered during this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. She explained, “It is important and essential to address victims in a trauma-informed manner because we only get one chance at trauma notifications.”

Retired chief John Letteney, the immediate past president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, is featured in a video at the start of the course and knows firsthand the importance of training law enforcement and victim services responders to deliver notifications. He stated that “you are making and having a lifelong impact on people on what is probably the worst day of their lives, and it’s so important to do that with dignity and compassion.”

The updated training includes eight new videos that highlight cultural competencies to ensure first responders are equipped to support an array of victims — including those in Indian Country, the LGBTQIA+ community, or individuals who may have language barriers — and present best practices for delivering trauma notifications. This online course has since transitioned from Penn State’s website to the FBI’s.

Moving Forward

Delivering a trauma or death notification may only take a few seconds, but the impact on those receiving the news can last a lifetime. Jennifer Romero, a victim specialist with the VSD in El Paso, Texas, explained:

Every time I respond to provide victim services support for search and arrest operations, often before the sun comes up, it is never lost on me that what is about to happen will change people’s lives forever. In child sexual exploitation cases, we team with agents to initiate visits to the home and often have to approach a parent to show a sanitized image and ask, “Is this your child?” Those are life-changing, traumatic notifications. Once we knock on that door, we are significantly altering the course of their lives.

As Beers reiterated, “professionals who show compassion, empathy, patience, teamwork, cultural responsiveness, flexibility, and adaptability and who are trauma-informed and victim-centered are best prepared to deliver these notifications.”

The FBI has its own Trauma Notification Teams, all trained by the VSD. There are 32 teams with over 800 trained personnel across the country, including special agents, task force officers, victim specialists, linguists, and medicolegal (forensic) investigators.

These teams are force multipliers for external partners and communities as members are trained to deliver trauma notifications when locals are overwhelmed by a mass violence incident. They ensure notifications are provided with professionalism, dignity, compassion, and without further traumatization.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said:

Victims are at the heart of the FBI’s mission, and the Trauma Notification Training offers resources, support, and hope to anyone who needs it. We are proud to announce the launch of this training during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and its expanded availability — a call to action for everyone to help crime victims.

To learn more about the Trauma Notification Training, to complete it, or to download the app, visit For questions, email the team at

“Delivering a trauma or death notification may only take a few seconds, but the impact on those receiving the news can last a lifetime.”

Dr. Johnson is a communications strategist with the FBI’s Victim Services Division.