Preparing to respond

Emergency preparedness increases planning for identified hazards, therefore reducing vulnerabilities to future disasters. It entails the mapping of sector capacity such as roles, responsibilities, skills and numbers of staff, the development of disaster response tools- including contingency plans simulations, multi-hazard mapping, and building capacities at the local and national level of government departments and cluster partners to respond to future crisis.

(For more information on Emergency Preparedness, please consult UNOCHA’s Emergency Preparedness Section website)

A major component of emergency preparedness is contingency planning. The key objective of contingency planning is to strengthen the capacities of communities, and local and national authorities to respond to disasters.

Based on lessons learned from previous emergencies and on hazards and risk assessments, contingency plans identify effective and realistic disaster responses: they decide upon scenarios and determine standard procedures for an organised and timely response, through building upon national and local preparedness measures and mechanisms. At the global level, Clluster deployment is a main contingency planning measure.

1.      Conduct hazard, vulnerability and risk assessment in urban and rural areas
  • RO will help with this if consultancy not available locally
2.      Agree preferred rapid assessment tool with UNCT and identify who will join the team
  • Preferably a joint assessment but on a sectoral basis if necessary
3.      Join RC in joint contingency planning and simulation exercise
  • RO will help with this
4.      Identify likely NGO partners and prepare partnership agreements outlining who will do what, where based on an assessment of capacities
5.      Identify Cluster Coordinator for: 

  • WASH
  • Education
  • Protection
  • Nutrition
  • (Telecoms)
  • Pending a request to RO to provide ‘surge’
  • Nutrition may be a sub-Cluster within Food Security
  • Child protection is likely to be a Sub-Cluster (or working group) within the Protection Cluster
  • Global Cluster Lead for Health is WHO
  • Save The Children is Global Co-Cluster Lead for Education
6.      Identify and get to know your Government counterpart and re-iterate his/her role within the Cluster
  • How the Cluster Approach can ‘add value’ to national government and local authorities (see below)

7.      Identify key informants from within each stakeholder group


Stakeholder Groups include: 

  • Donors
  • Government
  • NGOs (national and international)
  • CBOs
  • Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement (ICRC, IFRC, National Society)
  • Other Sectors
  • RC’s Office (and/or OCHA)
  • Academic institutions
  • Private sector
8.      Ensure pre-crisis baseline statistics are agreed with other Cluster Leads, including population denominators (per District) disaggregated as far as possible by gender and age 


Age breakdowns should include percentages of: 

  • Children less than 5 years of age
  • School-age children
  • Female-headed households
  • Elderly (over 65 years of age)

9.      Prepare blank A0-size map with administrative boundaries and key names / locations


The more multiple overlays that can be prepared, the better. For example, in WASH, prepare a map with overlays for: 

  • Areas at risk of natural hazard
  • Population density
  • Water scarcity / pollution
  • Areas of operation for each organization in the sector (not all of equal size)
10.    Prepare an outline CERF funding proposal
11.    Clarify coordination arrangements between UNCT / HCT and Cluster Lead Agencies Does the HCT take on inter-Cluster coordination responsibilities or is this delegated to a separate inter-Cluster forum (e.g ICCG)
12.    Identify and make informal agreement with potential local suppliers, including transportation and warehousing
13.    Identify projected additional staffing needs (surge and/or re-deployment of existing staff), clarify reporting lines within an organigram and draft TORs for each position
14.    Ensure IT work-from-home capacities exist for essential staff Rep, Deputy, Ops
15.    List all available stocks in the (sub) region, and pre-arrange quality and price with local suppliers for likely immediate relief items
16.    Sectoral performance standards and indicators identified and agreed per sector To be adapted and/or ratified as soon as the Cluster is established



“Contingency planning is the process of anticipating and developing strategies, arrangements and procedures to address the humanitarian needs of those at risk of being affected by crises”.

At its most basic, contingency planning means making a plan to respond to a potential crisis or emergency. This includes:

  • developing scenarios (anticipating the crisis),
  • determining the objectives of a group of organisations in these situations, and
  • defining what will be needed to reach those objectives.

Contingency planning processes can help to reinforce coordination mechanisms by keeping them active and by clarifying roles and responsibilities before a crisis.

An active contingency planning process enables individuals, teams, organisations to establish working relationships that can make a critical difference during a crisis.  By working together in a contingency planning process, people develop a common understanding of common challenges, of each other’s capacities and organisational requirements. This helps facilitate effective collaboration in a crisis.

What can you do to promote effective contingency planning?

  • Where there are pre-existing inter-agency contingency planning processes, cluster/sector leads should familiarize themselves with there content and coordination mechanisms and ensure that cluster/sector participants are also fully briefed to avoid wasting time ‘reinventing the wheel’.
  • Encourage active participation from members of the cluster/sector. The most constructive planning processes are those which actively engage agencies/organizations, encourage real problem-solving and result in useful plans that are ‘owned’ by the participants.
  • Ensure that organizations are committed to the contingency planning process from the outset and that the necessary resources, both human and financial, are provided and follow-up actions are taken.  The success of contingency planning depends on a strong commitment of senior decision-makers from the agencies/organizations participating in the cluster/sector.
  • Ensure the following questions are answered in the development of the cluster/sector contingency response plan:
    • What are the specific sector/cluster objectives?
    • What common standards will be used to guide the response?
    • What are the current capacities of the agencies/organization to respond?
    • What are the gaps between the current response capacity and the scale of emergency anticipated?
    • What initial assessment arrangements are needed?
    • What information management mechanism will be required?
    • What actions will be taken as an immediate response to the situation? Who does what and when?
    • What is required to support the immediate response (logistic/transport, TC-IT, commodities, staff…)?
    • What resources will be needed?
    • How will information flow between the various levels (local and national) and vice-versa?
    • Have specific preparedness actions be agreed on for cluster/sector?
    • What follow up actions are required?
  • Establish strong working relationships with other cluster/sector leads to ensure that cross-sector/cluster issues are identified and acted upon.

This is is a section from Clusterwise 2. Reproduction is encouraged. It would be nice if the author, James Shepherd-Barron, and were acknowledged when doing so.

Submit a Comment