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Organisational preparedness and planning for disaster response

Organisational preparedness enables coordinated activities to be carried out at an earlier stage and with better outcomes.

Humanitarian preparedness should be viewed as a multi-stakeholder activity. An agency developing preparedness in isolation is unlikely to significantly improve the overall response outcome in the event of a disaster. Where action is undertaken collectively, there’s potential to be transformative, resulting in different ways of carrying out coordinated activities at an earlier stage and with better outcomes.

Action should therefore include:

  • National and local government representatives
  • Scientific and technological organisations – government, research and private
  • Donors
  • Communities and community-based organisations (CBOs)
  • Other humanitarian agencies (international, national and local)

Such partnerships may already exist from DRR or development activities, so extending these to include humanitarian preparedness and response is a logical step. Christopher and Tatham (2014) show that developing a shared view of risk and developing complementary preparedness and planned response activities will result in a more efficient and agile humanitarian system.

Contingency planning is based on risk assessment (Metcalfe, Martin and Pantuliano 2011) and the development of impact scenarios. Planning sets response aims and objectives and defines the actions to achieve them (Twigg 2015).

Scenario planning

To develop scenarios (‘what if’ stories) upon which a response plan is based, analysis of the environmental, physical, social, political and organisational contexts needs to be undertaken. Given the level of uncertainty associated with projecting future events, a scenario should focus on key elements that influence impact and response, and not get caught up in detail.

Research done during planning should consider the following elements:

  • Potential hazards (magnitude, location, affected area, duration, warning time)
  • Exposure (the number of people living in the hazard-affected area)
  • Potential physical impacts (on the natural environment and physical structures, infrastructure and services)
  • Potential human impacts
  • Potential economic impacts (markets, income, livelihoods, savings)
  • Potential socio-epidemiological impacts (public access to healthcare, sanitation, information, communication, education, psychosocial support, religious needs, burial, etc)
  • Potential political impacts (governance issues, instability, etc)
  • Impacts or risks to the organisation

From the scenarios, a series of common planning assumptions can be defined. These are potential consequences, irrespective of the causal event. Common planning assumptions may be grouped into:

  • Humanitarian needs (the number of people likely to require types of assistance)
  • Operational challenges (the impacts on capacity to respond, access/logistics, communications, staff security, etc)
  • Wider political and social consequences (instability, unrest, displacement)

Plans usually cover three areas:

  • Ensuring the safety and security of staff
  • Maintaining ongoing critical services (business continuity) within and beyond the emergency zone
  • Responding to the emergency itself

In addition, it’s good practice to plan for exiting, and for the shift to recovery and recovery planning.

Monitoring a changing situation

Research may also provide an estimate of the lead time for an event and can indicate precursors or thresholds for action for slower onset emergencies, which help to inform decisions on when to act. In order to maximise the potential for anticipatory or early response, collaborating to develop a monitoring strategy for anticipatory response is crucial. Monitoring will enable agencies to move to a state of heightened readiness and maximise the lead time.

Your task

Based on your own experience or research undertaken on the Pakistan floods, can you provide any examples of Minimum Preparedness Actions (MPAs) and Advanced Preparedness Actions (APAs)?

Further reading

Department for International Development (DfID) (2017) Saving lives, building resilience, reforming the system: the UK government’s Humanitarian Reform Policy [online] available from [28 April 2020]

Levine, S., Crosskey, A., and Abdinoor, M. (2011) System failure? Revisiting the problems of timely response to crises in the Horn of Africa [online] available from [28 April 2020]


Christopher, M., and Tatham, P. (2014) Humanitarian logistics: Meeting the challenge of preparing for and responding to disasters. Kogan Page Publishers

Metcalfe, V., Martin, E., and Pantuliano, S. (2011) Risk in Humanitarian Action: Towards a Common Approach? [online] available from [28 April 2020]

Twigg, J. (2015) ‘Disaster Risk Reduction. New Edition 2015’. Good Practice Review [online] 9. available from [28 April 2020]

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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