Meaning of Disaster Response

The response phase includes the mobilization of the necessary emergency services and first responders in the disaster area. This is likely to include a first wave of core emergency services, such as firefighters, police and ambulance crews. When conducted as a military operation, it is termed Disaster Relief Operation (DRO) and can be a follow-up to a Non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO). They may be supported by a number of secondary emergency services, such as specialist rescue teams.

A well rehearsed emergency plan developed as part of the preparedness phase enables efficient coordination of rescue. Where required, search and rescue efforts commence at an early stage. Depending on injuries sustained by the victim, outside temperature, and victim access to air and water, the vast majority of those affected by a disaster will die within 72 hours after impact.

Organizational response to any significant disaster – natural or terrorist-borne – is based on existing emergency management organizational systems and processes: the Federal Response Plan (FRP) and the Incident Command System (ICS). These systems are solidified through the principles of Unified Command (UC) and Mutual Aid (MA)

There is a need for both discipline (structure, doctrine, process) and agility (creativity, improvisation, adaptability) in responding to a disaster. Combining that with the need to onboard and build a high functioning leadership team quickly to coordinate and manage efforts as they grow beyond first responders indicates the need for a leader and his or her team to craft and implement a disciplined, iterative set of response plans. This allows the team to move forward with coordinated, disciplined responses that are vaguely right and adapt to new information and changing circumstances along the way;

  1. Appropriate application of current technology can prevent much of the death, injury, and economic disruption resulting from disasters
  2. Morbidity and mortality resulting from disasters differ according to the type and location of the event.
  3. In any disaster, prevention should be directed towards reducing;
  • Losses due to the disaster event itself
  • Losses resulting from the Mismanagement of disaster relief.


Therefore, the public health objectives of disaster management can be stated as follows:

  1. Prevent unnecessary morbidity, mortality, and economic loss resulting directly from the disaster.
  2. Eliminate morbidity, mortality, and economic loss directly attributable to Mismanagement of disaster relief efforts.

Nature and Extent of the Problem

Morbidity and mortality, which result from a disaster situation, can be classified into four types:

  1. Injuries,
  2. Emotional stress,
  3. Epidemics of diseases,
  4. Increase in indigenous diseases.

The relative numbers of deaths and injuries differ on the type of disaster.

Injuries usually exceed deaths in explosions, typhoons, hurricanes, fires, famines, tornadoes, and epidemics.

Deaths frequently exceed injuries in landslides, avalanches, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, floods, and earthquakes.

Disaster victims often exhibit emotional stress or the “disaster shock” syndrome. The syndrome consists of successive stages of shock, suggestibility, euphoria and frustration.

Each of these stages may vary in extent and duration depending on other factors.

Epidemics are included in the definition of disaster; however, they can also be the result of other disaster situations.

Diseases, which may be associated with disasters, include

  • specific food and/or water bone illnesses

(e.g., typhoid, gastroenteritis and cholera),

  • vector bone illnesses

(e.g., plague and malaria),

  • diseases spread by person-to-person contact

(e.g., hepatitis A and shigellosis)

  • Diseases spread by the respiratory route (e.g., measles and influenza).


  1. The current status of environmental sanitation, disease surveillance, and preventive medicine has led to a significant reduction in the threat of epidemics following disaster.
  2. Immunization programs are rarely indicated as a specific post disaster measure.
  3. A disaster is often followed by an increase in the prevalence of diseases indigenous to the area due to the disruption of medical and other health facilities and programs.

Disaster wears many faces. It can be a hurricane, a flash flood, a fire in your home, a terrorist attack or a financial crisis. Surviving and thriving during adverse events takes more than a vague idea of “doing something, going somewhere and waiting for the government to take care of me.” Surviving a disaster takes planning and preparation.

Personal Preparation

  • A disaster is any event that swamps a community’s or individual’s ability to cope and respond. During an emergency, all levels of government may be overwhelmed with managing the crisis. Government help may not reach you and your family for days. Being able to meet your basic needs for at least a week is a sensible course of action.

Meeting Needs

  • The immediate needs of you and your family are air to breathe, water to drink, a warm and secure place to stay, nutritious and easy-to-prepare food to eat, and the ability to stay in contact with others. Stocking up on face masks like the N100, storing at least one gallon of water per day per person for a week or more, having the materials and skills to repair a damaged roof, maintaining enough nonperishable canned and packaged food and the means to prepare it, and keeping your cell phone charged at all times can work wonders in making life bearable and safe until help arrives.

Financial Matters

  • Financial preparation is an area sometimes overlooked. Maintain adequate levels of insurance on your possessions and on yourself in case your family needs to continue without you. Have spare cash on hand, enough to operate for a week or more. ATMs will not work without electricity, leaving you without funds. Point-of-sale cash registers won’t work for the same reason. Make sure you have a stash of small bills and coins because store owners will be unable to give you change.

Home Communications

  • Establish a safe rallying point outside of your home where all family members can meet in case your home is uninhabitable or you can’t make it back. Call a family member or friend who lives out of state to let them know you’re all right. Local phone lines may be swamped and it is often easier to contact someone in a different state because of the way phone traffic is switched and routed. Consider keeping your landline telephone in case of an emergency, because cell towers are often swamped with traffic or may sustain damage in a disaster.

News from the Outside

  • Being able to access information during and after a disaster can give you peace of mind and help you avoid more danger. Internet access may not be available if the power goes off or if regional servers are not in service. A battery- or solar-powered multi-band radio will provide you with information when there is no electricity.

Morbidity and Mortality from Mismanagement of Relief

Ideally, attempts to mitigate the results of a disaster would not add to the negative consequences;

However, there have been many instances in which inappropriate and/or incomplete management actions taken after a disaster contributed to unnecessary morbidity, mortality, and a waste of resources.

Many of the Causalities and much more of the Destruction occurring to natural disaster are due to ignorance and neglect on the part of the individuals and public authorities.

There is a plethora of literature describing the inappropriate actions taken to manage past disasters. Many of the same mismanagement problems tend to recur.

Physicians and nurses have been sent into disaster areas in numbers far in excess of actual need

Medical and paramedical personnel have often been hampered by the lack of the specific supplies they need to apply their skills to the disaster situation.

In some disasters, available supplies have not been inventoried until well after the disaster, resulting in the importation of material which is used or needed.

In a study of past disaster mismanagement problems and their causes, these problems were categorized as follows:

  • Inadequate appraisal of damages
  • Inadequate problem ranking
  • Inadequate identification of resources
  • Inadequate location of resources
  • Inadequate transportation of resources
  • Inadequate utilization of resources


An effective plan for public health and other personnel during a disaster would outline activities designed to minimize the effects of the catastrophe.

These efforts can be summarized as closely situation analysis and response; the two types of activities are interrelated.

Although many relief workers may be needed to obtain surveillance information, analyze the data, provide relief services, evaluate results, and provide information to the public, it is essential that a single person with managerial experience be placed in absolute charge of the entire disaster relief operation.

Following a disaster, the desire to provide immediate relief may lead to hasty decisions which are not based on the actual needs of the affected population.

The disaster relief managers can determine the actual needs of the population and make responsible relief decisions.

Reliable information must be obtained on problems occurring in the disaster stricken area, relief resources available and relief activities already in progress. For this, Surveillance systems must be set up immediately.

The objective of Surveillance in a disaster situation is to obtain information required for making relief decisions.


Crises incited by conflict and natural phenomena can have profound affects on the agricultural systems of rural people. Unfortunately these systems are often unprepared to withstand the impacts of these stresses. When the integrated socioeconomic, environmental and cultural elements of the farming system are damaged, the ability of farmers to maintain seed security may be compromised. Seed security is the access by farmers to adequate good quality seed of locally adapted varieties. It is of paramount importance in achieving long-term food security in developing countries and in maintaining sustainable livelihoods.

In response to these problems, international, national and local organizations often intervene in order to help affected communities recover and restore their agricultural systems. Due to the lack of preparation and the complexity related to emergency operations, many relief interventions have been unsuccessful in restoring the full agricultural capacity of farming systems (Bushamuka 1999; Hines et al 1998). Longley, who has been echoed by other writers, argues that a more detailed understanding of agricultural rehabilitation and relief is required.

Responding to these sentiments, this paper aims to investigate prominent issues in past post-disaster seed relief, namely seeds and tools, and emerging rehabilitation strategies in the field around the world. The issues that will be reviewed and explored include needs assessments; proposed strategies for short-term and long-term intervention; biodiversity issues in post-disaster activities; dependence arising from external interventions; coordination of agencies; and coordination of different forms of relief. It is hoped that this investigation provides a better understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of different interventions.


Needs Assessment/Diagnosis Issues

Reasons for and Approaches to Needs Assessments

A post-disaster needs assessment involves diagnosing the nature and magnitude of a disaster once it occurs. Relief and rehabilitation initiatives are, in essence, the management of information and resources, based on assessments and reports; if officials are to make effective decisions about the deployment of resources it is essential that they are properly informed.

In the past, needs assessments have been absent from many post-disaster seed initiatives, as is reflected in the paucity of literature on the subject. Critiques have increasingly been put forth arguing that intervening agencies have missed or mis-diagnosed the most important issues in relief and rehabilitation. Critics claim that many needs assessments disproportionately concentrate on food requirements, with a diagnosis of food insecurity implying seed insecurity. Additionally, these assessments tend to establish the formal seed sector structures without attempting to understand the potential role of local seed systems in disaster recovery. Consequently, these projects enhance the productivity of one component of the farming system as opposed to the resilience of the entire system.

In response to these critiques and problems, there is a growing body of literature emphasizing the importance of practicing holistic needs assessments that aim to accurately represent the diverse components of local farming systems and lead to more inclusive planning for post-disaster interventions. The latter body of literature will be explored below in addition to proposed reasons for frequent absence of needs assessments.

Two examples illustrating problems arising from an inaccurate needs assessment are explored here. Firstly, FAO and the other relief agencies working in Somalia relied on data collected for food assessments as proxy variables for estimating levels of seed needed. By doing so they assumed that seed was in short supply where harvest outputs were low. This approach did not taken into account how local seed networks in Somalia encourage the flow of seed from surplus to deficit areas in times of stress. Presumably seed capacity building initiatives would have been more effective in this situation if the primary stakeholders played a larger role in the needs assessment.

Secondly, O’Keefe and Kirby describe how widespread famine was declared without adequate supporting evidence during Kenya’s drought in the early 1990’s. This resulted in multiple inefficiencies as well as conflicts between local communities and relief agencies. In both of these accounts, the authors attribute the misunderstanding to the absence of an accurate needs assessment and imply that the agencies involved had little understanding of the way farmers might acquire seed for themselves.

Several reasons have been put forth in attempt to explain the absence of appropriate needs assessments. Firstly, many agencies feel that there is no time for a needs assessment as they feel rushed by the sense of urgency in emergency conditions. Secondly, agencies may also assume that the farmer seed system has completely collapsed or that it was inadequate to begin with. Thirdly, in some cases the overriding agenda of agencies may obscure the accuracy of the needs assessment and adversely affect the outcome of relief and rehabilitation initiatives. Poorly conducted and unsuitable needs assessments are a critical issue for exploration as in some cases they have resulted in the intended beneficiaries becoming dependent upon external support and aid.

Following from this justification for a strong needs assessment, the issue of how an assessment is conducted is portrayed as equally important as whether or not it is conducted. There are several methodologies put forth for conducting this initial planning component concerning timing, inter-agency coordination, participatory research methods and building data collection methods into existing institutions in the affected region.

With respect to timing of needs assessment, there are strong arguments supporting ongoing assessments as crucial to successful long-term recovery. Agriculture and seed systems are constantly changing and adapting to dynamic markets, land intensification, natural resource degradation and the potential of future disasters. A ‘one-shot’ needs assessment can be problematic as it only describes the state of affairs and needs at a particular point in time and does not reflect the dynamic nature of these needs. Consequently initiatives should aim to use iterative diagnostic and evaluative tools that can be adapted on an ongoing basis.

In almost all of the case studies reviewed, multiple agencies intervened in the disaster affected region. Inter-agency coordination at the needs assessment stage is a prerequisite for successful recovery operations. Coordination implies understanding, assessing and evaluating the impact of previous seed and relief (i.e. food) interventions and looking at current support provided by other agencies. Very often relief organizations have little knowledge of each others’ operations and tend to overlap in their assessment areas and activities. Reports from both Kenya and Rwanda illustrate the detrimental consequences arising from lack of agency coordination; these include competition and contradicting assessments of seed availability and drought conditions.

Intervening agencies are often unfamiliar with local conditions and do not use participatory planning methodologies. Pottier notes that many post-disaster agricultural interventions are guided by “media images and rhetoric, through which outside agency workers liaise with local bureaucrats to arrive at perspectives and solutions which they (the outsiders) control” (Pottier 1996:56). Contrasting discourses in international development, neither local participation nor stakeholder involvement has been explored extensively in a post-disaster agricultural context. Individuals that have investigated studies using participation comment that it is frequently overlooked in post-disaster work.

Pratten notes that it is a difficult to facilitate the emergence of strong community based organizations for help in needs assessments (1997). Responding to this difficulty, Longley proposes that the diagnostic process should be integrated into existing information collecting methods. As an example she points to the household economy approach developed by Save the Children-UK (SCF) which is widely used for field monitoring in emergency situations throughout Africa. Because this methodology involves an understanding of farmer seed systems, it has also been used to support information collecting methods in post-disaster agricultural needs assessments.

Which factors should be diagnosed and assessed?

Building on these methodologies, the content of a needs assessment is also critical. It has been argued that too many projects disproportionately focus on crop productivity and the formal sector and that this concentration obscures the inherent strength and resilience of the entire system. Argue that balancing productivity with socioeconomic, cultural and biological components of the farming system is vital in disaster recovery. This overall balance should be reflected in the needs assessment;

  • General trends of information needs for appropriate project planning are outlined as follows:
  • existing and pre-disaster physical structure of farmer systems
  • local knowledge and its role in maintaining agricultural sustainability
  • feasibility of facilitating access to seeds
  • targeting and stakeholder identification
  • normally existing informal and formal seed channels
  • social, gender, cultural and class relations in the farming system
  • the natural environment (land mines, soil fertility etc.)
  • the situation of displaced individuals
  • coordination with other areas of disaster recovery and relief
  • livelihood recovery
  • selection and multiplication for seed distribution (if required)
  • the impact of the disaster upon all of the factors aforementioned
  • transition to long-term development

Some of these issues are expanded upon and explored below;

Firstly, an understanding of the pre-disaster and contemporary farming systems is vital to guide relief and rehabilitation planning. In the initial planning stages, many agencies assume that farmer seed systems have completely collapsed or were inadequate to begin with. However, there is a growing body of literature suggesting that researching the strengths of the past and contemporary traditional farmer system will reveal the resilience and its capacity to recover independently.

Secondly, characterizing the disaster and understanding how it has impacted upon the farming system are essential components of needs assessments. Several disaster impacts that should be assessed include the speed of its onset, whether it is a situation of acute or chronic stress, the geographic scope of the impacts, the scale of population affected, geographic population movements, environmental degradation, changes in wealth distribution, changes in social relations in the community and the loss of diverse assets. The distinct combination of impacts will likely necessitate very different repertoires of development relief interventions.

Thirdly, in post-disaster management understanding social and economic relations between and among men and women is critical to needs assessments. Arguably, crisis situations are never gender neutral. Because they impact men and women in different ways, effective interventions must take this into account. With respect to agriculture, it should be noted that a large proportion of the agricultural sector is made up of women. FAO now estimates that, on average, women produced between 60-80% of the food in the developing world. Given this significant contribution, it is noteworthy that in post-disaster agricultural recovery, the importance of gender is often neglected. Few, if any, calculations are made of losses of ‘female’ crops and “agricultural recovery from disasters is a responsibility that women are left to shoulder largely on their own”.

Given the discrepancies of disaster impacts upon men and women and their distinctly different roles in the agricultural sector, it is not surprising that men and women exhibit different coping strategies and prioritize different needs in post-disaster situations. An example illustrating this point is in Nicaragua following Hurricane Mitch where women in one community listed ‘fear’ as the worst impact of the disaster whereas men thought ‘decreased coffee production’ was the worst impact (Trujillo 2000). All of these factors should be taken into account in post-disaster agricultural needs assessments in order to ensure gender sensitive interventions.

Finally, re-accessing and strengthening seed channels is an important part of ensuring seed availability and successful recovery (McGuire 2001; Remington 2001). Almekinders argues that understanding the local and formal seed systems and the complex relations between these sectors will help reveal if there is an absolute scarcity of seeds (2001). Several channels that households may acquire seeds from are formal outlets, local merchants, exchange with family or neighbours, or from hybridization in their own fields. Looking at how and if these channels can be recovered could be an important key in understanding the degree of seed security in the area (McGuire 2001). In situations of seed scarcity, variety selection and choice becomes increasingly important; this will be further explored in the section ‘Biodiversity Issues Related to Relief and Rehabilitation Interventions’ section.

From these arguments, it can be inferred that a holistic needs assessment is critical to the successful post-disaster recovery of a farming system. Although work in this field is increasing, the majority of practical experiences and literature on the subject either misses needs assessments entirely or disproportionately concentrates on certain aspects of the farming system, such as productivity. Increasingly emerging and important issues for future investigation within this subject include on-going needs assessments and monitoring methodologies that reflect the changing needs of disaster affected populations, the participation of farmers throughout the process and the integration of a gendered perspective in post-disaster planning.

Proposed Strategies in Relief and Rehabilitation

Reflected both in practice and in the literature, there are two different inter-related approaches to post-disaster seed interventions. One looks at seed distribution as a form of short-term relief whereas the other addresses alternative seed capacity building strategies as a form of long-term development. Although some writers and projects integrate the two approaches, a significant number of agencies focus on either one or the other. Furthermore, surprisingly little work exists concerning the integrated transition between short-term relief to long-term sustainable development. General themes in each school of thought and their integration will be explored below.

Distribution of Seed Relief 

The short-term approach that is most frequently used in post-disaster situations is the distribution of seeds, inputs and agricultural tools; this approach is referred to as the distribution of ‘seeds and tools’. Several reasons why this approach is favoured by practitioners are explored here. Seed distribution can help re-establish a ‘self-help’ mode within communities by helping families to produce their own food and support their livelihoods. Seed distributions are also often perceived to be a more long-term and effective activity than short-term food aid. Furthermore, when rural livelihood systems have been damaged, it is possible to distribute seeds and tools immediately and efficiently thus enabling the benefits of a catch-crop in the first available season.

Delivery mechanisms and proper targeting of recipients are important in seeds and tools initiatives. With respect to targeting, identifying those most in need is critical to providing effective assistance. Following Hurricane Mitch it was revealed that the hardest hit were the most marginalized members of society such as small producers, and female-headed households. In Honduras, female headship increased from a pre-disaster level of 20.4% to 50%. Targeting initiatives should take into account such changing demographics. In this case, distributing seeds solely to male-headed households would have further handicapped a large portion of the population. Within the literature reviewed, community participation was portrayed as the most effective way to ensure proper and inclusive targeting of seed distribution.

Although community participation is vital in targeting, challenges can potentially arise with this approach. Illustrating this, Richards describes targeting methodologies in Sierra Leone in the mid-1990s where relief agencies organized village committees to identify potential beneficiaries for seeds and tools. However, amongst these identified beneficiaries, not all farms were included. In some cases, the excluded individuals were angry enough to threaten joining the rebels (2001). In a similar example of participatory targeting in Ethiopia, the community based organization in charge of targeting excluded women in their seed distributions (Pratten 1997). These case studies illustrate the importance of integrating the unique social and economic make-up of the population into participatory targeting in order to help those who are most in need.

With respect to distribution techniques, there are a variety of benefits and drawbacks to delivering seeds by donation, credit or sale. Firstly, when relief is given by donation, it supports farmers who have insufficient funds to purchase materials themselves and is logistically easier for NGOs. However, donating seed has been critiqued because it may reduce farmer incentive to rescue their own production systems and can potentially create dependency upon the donors.

Secondly, delivering seeds on credit is common in relief interventions. For example, in Rwanda CARE requested project beneficiaries to return three times as much seed for each bean seed loan (the particular variety had a multiplication rate of ten seeds). The collected seed was then given to the Ministry of Agriculture for later distribution to returning farmers who had been displaced (ODI 1996). However, the success of credit systems can depend on the intervening agency’s logistical capacity to monitor and keep track of repayments (Pratten 1997). Furthermore, the farmer’s ability to repay the loan is dependent on the success of the harvest.

Thirdly, there have been cases of intervening agencies selling seeds as a method of distribution. For example, SCF and World Food Program working in Ethiopia’s Ogaden desert sold donated grain at low rates to desert traders in an effort to maintain the established market patterns and decrease the likelihood of a dependency growing on food aid (Hill 1992). Despite the intent to maintain market normalcy, selling seed can have negative implications socially. Distributions may exacerbate discrepancies between rich and poor farmers if some farmers can not afford the seeds (ODI 1996). It is commonly agreed upon that different types of distribution methods may be required for different portions of the affected population (Sperling 2001). In cases where seeds are distributed, selection of appropriate targeting and distribution methodologies should be determined at the needs assessment stage.

 Critiques of Seed Distribution Strategies

Seeds and tools methodologies are used in most post-disaster agricultural relief situations because of their immediacy in helping to re-establish food security, their role as a self-help initiator and their role in reducing farmer’s dependence on external organizations. Despite these benefits, there is a growing body of literature exploring the limitations of short-term seeds and tools initiatives and favouring the integration of long-term alternative intervention strategies. Two case studies illustrating problematic seed distributions are explored here.

Ahmed et al. illustrate that seed distributions in Somalia are rarely effective. In the exceptional cases when there is an absolute lack of seed, perhaps caused by a massive population displacement, short term distributions could serve a ‘start-up’ role. With the high multiplication rates of desired crops, farmers felt that there was rarely a need to continue relief distributions for more than one or two seasons (Ahmed et al 2001). Similarly, in Mozambique it has been argued that any seed distribution, even short term, has been relatively ineffective. Although the relief interventions have helped many households to immediately start up crop production, farming systems have remained vulnerable and unable to reach a state of self-sufficiency; the initial on-farm reserves that were accumulated were unable to withstand small disasters. Based on the Mozambican case study, Whiteside argues that agencies should focus on long-term planning for seed capacity building schemes.

Several generalized limitations of seeds and tools are explored below. Firstly, in many cases external agencies rely too heavily on the formal seed sector for distributions as opposed to focusing on recovering informal seed exchange channels. Secondly, such agencies are accused of lacking an understanding of and appreciation for local farmer seed systems. They largely neglect the resilience of farming systems and that local systems may be able to recover themselves. Arguably, seed and tools distributions are only required in exceptional cases and should not be the norm (Longley 2001). Finally, these initiatives are rarely critically evaluated for their long-term effectiveness, they do not have a lasting impact on small communities and better opportunities to better assist farmers are missed at the expense of this methodology. Increasing analysis is showing that this type of aid intervention is ineffective in addressing a variety of seed related problems and opportunities,


Alternative Rehabilitation Strategies

The growing numbers of critiques of short-term seeds and tools interventions have inspired a body of literature and practice that focuses on longer term interventions. As opposed to distributions of physical inputs, these interventions focus on strengthening social and economic variables in the farming systems. Mengistu argues that long-term sustainability and self-sufficiency will be unlikely if emergency aid is not accompanied by rehabilitation measures (2001).

Facilitating farmers’ access to seed has been proposed by several writers as an effective alternative to seeds and tools projects. Very rarely is there an absolute scarcity of seeds within an affected region but rather farmers are unable to access these seeds due to an erosion of their former seed entitlements. For example, Sperling notes that a farmer’s financial status is often more responsible for their lack of seeds as opposed to a poor harvest or a lack of technical expertise. In crisis situations, wealthier farmers have occasionally acted as village seed banks to less affluent farmers. Even in normal times, those giving out seeds in informal supply circuits are generally the wealthier farmers. Given these conditions, facilitating the flow of existing seed in the region is arguably more effective than large scale seed distributions.

Consistent with this argument, the practice of voucher-seed fairs is based upon the assumption that there is rarely an absolute shortage of seeds and thus aims to facilitate access to existing seeds. In northern Uganda and drought affected regions of Kenya, the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has helped to organize such fairs. CRS distributed vouchers to farm families and arranged fairs where seed sellers (farmers, traders etc.) exchanged seed for vouchers. The vouchers were, in turn, exchanged for cash by CRS. Benefits of seed-voucher fairs have also been noted by Ahmed et al who praise the fairs because individuals can obtain their preferred crops and varieties, farmers can judge the seed quality for themselves and the fairs are logistically simple. Furthermore, this strategy strengthens social and economic linkages between different members of the farming system.

Given the importance of financial resources in accessing seeds, several writers propose that post-disaster agricultural rehabilitation should concentrate specifically on rebuilding economic livelihoods. In Rwanda, SCF conducted a study revealing that income-generating opportunities usually available had been severely disrupted as a result of the conflict. Farmers stressed that the restoration of opportunities for seasonal wage work, as opposed to merely material inputs, would be essential alongside other strategies to rebuild the agricultural sector. Supporting this example, Longley and Hussein note that the use of livelihood approaches in situations of chronic conflict or instability is a growing field of study.

Another methodology aiming to facilitate access to seeds is the creation of communal seed banks. Within seed banks stocks of seeds are grown, harvested and stored and can be accessed by the community in times of need. Benefits to this approach are that seed banks can function with limited external assistance and they can serve as both a preventative measure before disasters and a post-disaster recovery measure. Despite these advantages, seed banks may be vulnerable to depletion when prolonged conflict or natural disasters hinder community replenishment. For example, although community seed banks in Sahel worked reasonably well, periodic drought conditions condemned the banks to a life-span of a decade at most.

Also related to facilitating access, some writers propose that interventions should focus on recovering and strengthening former seed exchange channels. In doing so, it is important to take into account both formal channels, such as markets, and informal channels such as exchanges between neighbours (McGuire 2001). A disproportionate concentration on one type of channel may adversely affect the overall resilience of the seed system.

Building on this, Almekinders portrays informal and formal systems as inversely complementary in their strengths and flaws. He proposes that their improved integration will improve opportunities for small-scale farmers. He identifies weaknesses in the informal sector as new seed technology, introduction of new materials and exotic genes, and seed diffusion (over larger distances and across social barriers) and states that the formal sector has a comparative advantage in these areas. Contrastingly, the informal sector has a comparative advantage over the formal sector in knowledge about local situations, capacity to adapt genetic materials and technologies, inter-community diffusion of new materials, and maintaining genetic diversity.

Facilitating access to seed can also be achieved by strengthening existing social linkages with an emphasis on gender sensitivity. EUROSTEP notes that women often cope in disaster situations by mobilizing formal and informal social networks in order to meet the needs of her family and the larger community. They organize community relief efforts and utilize kin networks and activate women’s groups to meet immediate needs. Men, on the other hand, often rely on strategies that take them away from their families and other social networks such as searching for employment. Acknowledging and strengthening the existing coping strategies of women may be an effective avenue to encourage seed security.

Another approach aiming to strengthen existing social linkages and building seed security is to encourage the formation of small-scale seed enterprises through relief interventions. Constructed of farmers, entrepreneurs, or local institutions, the enterprise members are trained in methods of seed production and assisted in setting up the enterprise. In Uganda and Kenya this approach has been established for potatoes and enterprises for other crops are also being set up. Although this strategy requires high initial investment to establish and organize, it has the potential to be sustainable in the long-term. Furthermore, these enterprises will also prepare farmers to cope with any potential future disasters.

Providing advice and training on agricultural technologies can also increase seed security. Firstly, agricultural training can be given to displaced farmers who may be unfamiliar with soils that differ from their home environment. Secondly, farmers may have lost labourers and family members during the disaster; technological advice may help them to alleviate the impact of these losses on the farm. Thirdly, historically farmers have showed willingness to test and experiment with small amounts of novel seeds and new varieties of crops. In post-disaster situations, agencies could provide advice on seed technologies to help decrease vulnerability to diseases, water-logging and poor soils.

Within the literature, no writer portrayed one approach as a panacea for long-term agricultural recovery. In many cases, a mix of rehabilitation activities may be required to engage a wide spectrum of farmers in need. Although an effective needs assessment will help to determine which combination of approaches is appropriate for the local context, Longley warns that planning and implementing these interventions must still be approached carefully. Alongside all of these activities, ongoing monitoring and evaluation are critical for responding to changing conditions and long-term sustainability.

Transition from Emergency Aid to Long-Term Development

Although much is written on immediate seed relief and longer term rehabilitation, there is a scarcity of literature on the transition between short-term and long-term activities or on approaches that integrate short-term relief and long-term rehabilitation at the outset. Noting this absence of information, O’Keefe and Kirby write that “the striking thing about disaster handbooks is not the detail of what to do in the relief phase but the absence of any information on how to move on from relief” (1997: 2). They feel that this stage is particularly important as communities in post-disaster situations risk becoming dependent on short term aid activities in the absence of a transition to long-term planning.

There are a wide variety of reasons relief-development transitions may be problematic such as the changing conceptual frameworks on part of donors and beneficiaries and the inadequately linked and different timetables. In response to these difficulties and variables, several ideas are put forth for successful relief-development transitions:

  • the integration of short and long term plans should be at the initial planning stages
  • a shared vision of end goals between the donor community and key local actors
  • a joint needs assessment that prioritizes the essential elements of basic needs and reconstruction and peace-building efforts
  • clear schedules and assigned responsibilities for hand-over from emergency agencies to their successors undertaking rehabilitation and development programs
  • the ongoing participation of community based organizations from the needs assessment through to long-term planning
  • performance and utilization-focused monitoring integrated into planning
  • the development of an exit strategy at the planning stage of the relief operation

As illustrated in the list above, some writers perceive relief and development activities as distinct events requiring a transition between the two different sets of activities and sets of organizations. An example illustrating this was in Nicaragua following Hurricane Mitch. Many of the organizations that were mobilized during this disaster were providing short-term assistance in many municipalities in which they had never worked. Similarly, many agencies who did have established networks and long-term involvement in these regions were not utilized during the disaster stage. In this situation, the expertise and knowledge of local conditions of neither the relief nor development agencies were appropriately used. Presumably an approach integrating the expertise of both relief and development agencies would have been more effective.

Contrasting the transition from short to long term planning, some writers favour an integration of short-term and long-term strategies from the outset. FAO notes that development objectives should not be set aside during emergencies; they need to be maintained throughout the emergency and should incorporate elements of prevention and preparedness which reduce susceptibility to disasters. Despite strong arguments that an integrated approach will better address farmer systems’ changing needs, there is a large gap both in practice and in the literature in this area.

Biodiversity Issues Related to Seed Choice in Relief and Rehabilitation Interventions

Crop diversity is portrayed as an essential prerequisite for productive agricultural ecosystem and sustainable livelihoods in developing countries. Growing different varieties and diverse crops helps farmers to fine-tune their farming systems to local environmental conditions, to maintain food security and to utilize crop related benefits. Several factors posing a threat to crop diversity globally include the spread of commercial agriculture, natural disasters and conflict. Consequently, agricultural biodiversity is integrally linked with post-disaster rehabilitation and relief initiatives. Despite aims to the contrary, in seed relief efforts many agencies have had negative impacts on crop diversity.

Issues concerning the benefits and drawbacks of different relief and rehabilitation interventions on crop diversity will be explored below. Seed distributions are the post-disaster strategies that have the most direct impact on biodiversity. Although a small portion of this literature focused on farmers’ participatory varietal selection for seed distributions, a larger portion focused on the debate between seeds from in situ/ ex situ sources, informal/formal sources and local/modern high yielding varieties. In addition to seed selection issues, the effects of social and economic variables on the management of biological diversity were also significant components of the literature explored.

Farmer Participation in Complex Situations

Most writers reviewed agreed that the starting point for post-disaster seed rehabilitation is to understand farming community’s pre-disaster situation. Determined during the diagnostic stage, if germ plasma is to be introduced into the community, it should closely resemble pre-disaster conditions. Thus if farmers have been growing only local varieties of target crops, then these should be the focus; if farmers were growing modern high-yielding varieties, then these should be provided . However, in many post-disaster situations this is not always so straightforward.

Firstly, farmers may have experience with an eclectic mixture of local and modern varieties; it may be difficult to tell the difference between the two types of seeds as farmers may have over time adapted a range of varieties from different sources. In such cases, deciding which types of seeds to distribute can be problematic.

Secondly, the seed being used by farmers prior to the disaster may not be available for purchase in the area. Furthermore, disaster agencies are dependent on the seed’s natural multiplication rate and successful yields if regional breeding programs are pursued. This raises the question of what type of seed is appropriate if seeds of local varieties cannot be obtained.

Thirdly, in some countries, such as Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Eritrea and Mozambique, where wars have lasted over 10 years, it may not be feasible to return to a farmer system on a pre-war level; markets, populations, ecological conditions etc. will have changed extensively. In these cases, there is often debate over what varieties to introduce. Several writers question if agencies are then justified in helping the country to take a ‘technological jump’ and implement modern seed technologies where otherwise local varieties would have been chosen.

In each of these situations, facilitating the recovery of the farming system to pre-war levels is problematic. Farmer participation in selection of seeds is a potential strategy to move forward in these situations. Although there are examples of farmer participatory varietal selection in a development context, surprisingly little has been written on the subject in a post-disaster context. Reasons for this may be the perceived lack of time in disaster relief or the perceived lack of farmers’ knowledge to make an informed choice. Kundermann proposes that farmers may over-value foreign seed where there is a lack of information and opportunities to assess the imported resources or misappropriate foreign resources due to a lack of confidence in the unknown material (2000). However, it is debatable whether these reasons justify the denial of control to farmers of seed selection in their own production systems. Alternative to these cases of farmer varietal selection, much of the literature focused on the drawbacks and merits of different seeds for distribution in the context of their environmental, social and economic suitability in post-disaster situations.

Seed distributions from Ex situ and/or Formal sources

In many instances the seeds distributed are obtained ex situ or from the formal agricultural sector. When agencies concentrate on the formal sector in seed related interventions, modern variety seeds are more often selected for distribution than local farmer varieties. A disproportionate concentration on these seed varieties will have implications for biodiversity and the overall farming system. Several instances where modern varieties have been distributed are: the Caribbean following Hurricane Mitch, in Bangladesh following floods in 1999, in Rwanda following the civil war in the mid-1990s and in Uganda in response to the droughts, flooding and rebel insurgency in the 1990s.

Proponents of modern varieties herald that they have the benefits of shorter growing seasons, boost local economies, conserve forest land, prevent childhood malnutrition and increase resistance to pests, diseases and drought. Furthermore, they have contributed to a worldwide rise in crop yields, as famed by the ‘Green Revolution’ where food yields (per person per acre) doubled or tripled within 20-30 years. Such varieties are often portrayed as an effective vehicle towards achieving global food security and towards economic rehabilitation in agriculture.

Supporting the role of high-yielding varieties in the recovery of livelihoods and poverty alleviation, Evenson states that “basic economic logic indicates that with lower rates of productivity growth, farm production costs will be higher and lower quantities of crops will be produced in developing countries”. This would result in higher prices for all consumers including farmers for foods they do not produce. In the event that prices rise, the harm is would be greatest among the poorer groups because the poor spend a higher fraction of their income.

Two arguments describing the benefits of modern varieties on local biodiversity are as follows. Firstly, in order for traditional varieties to produce equivalent yields to modern varieties, a larger area of land is required for cultivation. This land requirement puts more pressure on the biodiversity of habitats and fragile land problems (Evenson 2000). Avery states that the solution for protecting wildlands is to pursue “higher yields of crops and livestock from the land we are already farming” (Avery 1998: 32). Secondly, the availability of modern varieties has prompted many of the world’s poorest countries to invest in plant breeding programs and produce varieties suited to local environments; this has helped to maintain high levels of biodiversity (Evenson 2000).

Modern variety seeds and seeds from the formal sector also been praised for their accessibility and reliable quality in post-disaster situations. With respect to quality, there have been instances where farmers are provided with seeds of poor quality during disaster situations. Distributing seed that is of poor physiological, analytical or sanitary quality can be worse than distributing no seed at all (ODI 1996; ISTF 1997). In addition to these issues of quality, ex situ seed acquired from international seed banks is often more accessible than local varieties acquired in situ in times of disaster.

Despite these benefits, other writers have argued that the belief in the superiority of formal sector varieties over farmer varieties is inappropriate for post-disaster agricultural interventions. Several critiques of modern high-yielding varieties include being prematurely introduced into environments where they are not compatible with local conditions; requiring high levels of chemical inputs that negatively impact the surrounding environment; the large-scale use of uniform germplasm making their cropping sector more vulnerable to large-scale harvest failures; displacing local knowledge systems and decreasing overall levels of biodiversity.

The experience of Honduras following Hurricane Mitch is one example that has inspired such critiques. Firstly, farmers expressed disappointment with the concentration and similar modern cultivars that were vulnerable to the harsh conditions at these altitudes and resulted in poor harvests. Furthermore, the distribution of only a few modern varieties with no action to protect local varieties resulted in a loss of plant genetic resources and important genetic properties necessary to the ‘subsistence agriculture’ in the region. From this example De Barbentane concludes that although the aim of agencies was to rebuild food security in the region, they had a negative impact on food security, biodiversity and sustainability of local agriculture systems by introducing seeds that were inappropriate to that context.

Seed Distributing from In Situ and/or Informal Sources

Many agencies focus on distributing ex situ seeds and in strengthening the formal sector in order to ensure the benefits of quality and high yields. However, this disproportionate concentration may also be because agencies do not have a good understanding of the informal sector. Although the informal management of genetic material does not typically follow the distinct rules characteristic of the formal sector, supporting its recovery in post-disaster situations is arguably very important. Bushamuka states that crop diversity, maintained through local management, is the basis of agricultural systems in developing countries and should thus be preserved (1998). Additional proposed benefits of local varieties include their suitability to local conditions, their resilience in war times, and their role in maintaining local knowledge systems.

Several of these claimed benefits are explored as follows. If local traditions of experimenting with and selecting seeds are displaced by the formal sector, the overall resilience of the farming system may be adversely affected (Haugen 2001; Ahmed et al 2001). For example, during the war in Rwanda in the mid-1990s, the production some 1,300 phenotypes of local bean varieties remained stable as they were restocked through the local farmer markets. Contrasting this, the pre-war potato production had largely consisted of three modern varieties. Its failing post-war production was attributed to its reliance on the formal sector to supply clean seed, fungicide and fertilizer; all of these had been lost at the beginning of the war. Kundermann states that the more extreme the agro-climatic conditions, the greater the benefits of locally developed farmers’ varieties over varieties produced by formal breeding programs.

Refuting the claim that modern varieties produce higher yields, some writers argue that local varieties result in higher yields because they are not as vulnerable to crop failure. This is especially true in the case of rain-fed areas where modern varieties, which generally require more water than local varieties, do not often produce their famed higher yields (Hossain 2001). Reportedly, the practice of growing mixed varieties and crops inherent in local farming practices reduces vulnerability to insects, diseases, climatic irregularities and a wide range of agro-ecological conditions that could drastically lower yields. It was for all of these reasons that the SCF supported the distribution of these seeds in Rwanda.

Much of the literature made the correlation between ex situ seeds, the formal sector and modern varieties and between in situ seeds, the informal sector and local farmer varieties. It is very important to note that these correlations do not always exist. Ex situ seeds from neighbouring countries and international gene banks may also be local varieties stored there as a as a disaster prevention method. Furthermore, in some cases seeds found in situ that are modern varieties. When reviewing other post-disaster agricultural relief experiences, it is noteworthy that this ex situ does not always mean ‘modern’ and in situ does not always ‘local’.

The Effects of Agricultural Rehabilitation Interventions on Biodiversity

Several writers argue that restoring biodiversity and long-term productivity to farmer systems requires more than a straightforward substitution or reintroduction of seeds. In addition to the agro-ecological considerations, the maintenance of seeds and biodiversity within a farming system is closely linked with features of social organization, economic activities and cultural/religious norms of the community. Some of these socio-economic and cultural aspects will be explored below.

Bushamuka notes the effects of socio-cultural and socio-economic factors on the diversity in farming systems. Agricultural relief and rehabilitation policies are often guided by the assumption that populations depend on crops from commercial farming. Because commercial production and income are often controlled by men, their desired variety types are often given preference in post-disaster programmes. However, it is vital to note that women contribute significantly to the agricultural work force and have different crop preferences which are often neglected in programmes. For example, home garden’s managed by women are among the richest remaining repositories of genetic diversity. One study in Thailand found a total of 230 different plant species growing in the gardens of one village alone. The majority of available literature on gender and biodiversity is within a development context and the link with post-disaster situations is still at a preliminary stage.

Cultural norms can also influence the selection of crop varieties produced for consumption such as low yielding landraces that are often maintained for their particular cultural or culinary values. Consistent with these descriptions, Sperling notes that in Rwanda and Sierra Leone community systems of knowledge and social relationships in exchanging seed are integral to the sustenance of varietal diversity. She goes on to argue that the culmination of factors contributing to biodiversity maintenance by farmers is not just about the physical seeds but about the political, social and economic that enable local people to manage their cropping systems. Post-disaster interventions should take into account the relation of these forces to agricultural biodiversity in relief and rehabilitation measures.

Following from this, interventions that concentrate on the formal seed systems involve a limited number of actors doing or regulating each process. A disproportionate concentration on the formal seed system can potentially result in a transfer of the site of knowledge creation and seed maintenance away from local communities and to centralized control by intervening agencies. In many cases farmers are resistant to this knowledge transfer favouring new seeds and techniques. For example, farmers in Sudan were mistrustful of distributed modern seeds because they had not tested them under normal conditions and the varieties were unfamiliar in that area. Furthermore, a farmer receiving a modern variety during an emergency may persist to farm the seed in a similar way he or she would plant a traditional variety seed because they are comfortable with that method of farming.

Synthesizing these arguments and experiences put forth above, it can be inferred that seed distributions that concentrate too heavily on one type of seeds may not adequately take into account all of the factors involved in sustaining local biodiversity and productive and farming systems. Benefits of ex situ and/or modern varieties and/or seeds in the formal sector include poverty alleviation, conservation of wildlands, quality control and easy access for distribution. Benefits of in situ and/or local varieties and/or seeds from the informal sector include natural resilience of the system, preservation of local knowledge and of local power structures. In cases where a return to pre-war varieties is no longer possible, optimally farmer’s participation will play a role in determining which types of seeds are best for their local conditions. Ideally planning for relief interventions should be based upon the site-specific balance of these benefits and drawbacks and give an accurate representation to the diverse variables constructing a farming system.


Given the complexity and fragility of post-disaster farming systems, external interventions have a responsibility to intervene and facilitate recovery cautiously. From the experience and opinions expressed in this investigation, several recommendations and cross-cutting themes are worth highlighting.

Firstly, many of the issues, strengths and problems described throughout the literature related back to the importance of accurately and comprehensively diagnosing the situation at the outset. A needs assessment that is conducted in a holistic manner and gives representation to the diverse aspects of the informal and formal seed sectors with an emphasis on understanding the strengths of the pre-war and current farming systems is vital. Furthermore, iterative needs assessments and monitoring methodologies should be integrated into post-disaster recovery in a way that the planned activities can meaningfully respond to changing conditions in the farming system.

Secondly, past experience has revealed that there is tendency of agencies to plan interventions without sufficient knowledge of the entire interconnected components of the farming system. This leads to relief and rehabilitation interventions that disproportionately concentrate on improving one aspect of the farming system at the expense of neglecting another. Illustrating this were agencies decision to distribute seeds and tools to farmers in response to their lack of availability to seeds as opposed to improving farmers’ access to seeds.

Thirdly, agencies tend to concentrate on improving the formal sector and productivity of farming systems without adequately understanding the informal sector and the socioeconomic and cultural variables of the farming system. As was revealed, all seed distributions and rehabilitation strategies also have tremendous impacts on the biodiversity of the farming system, livelihoods, gender relations and social and economic inequalities. A broad perspective that takes into account all of these issues should be integrated into seed relief and rehabilitation interventions.

Finally, gender and people’s participation are also significant cross-cutting themes. Integrating the diverse perspectives and variables present within the farming system is critical to long-term recovery. These issues are crucial not only at the needs assessment stage, but also in other activities such as varietal selection and ongoing monitoring. Disasters affect men and women in different ways in addition to differentially affecting economic classes. This needs to be taken into account in all aspects of planning. Given the magnitude of complex problems in crises and the rapid responses they require, the difficulty of participatory and gendered planning that accurately represents a diverse cross-section of the farming systems needs and interests is somewhat understandable. However, the significant absence of these factors within work in this area is still largely regrettable. Byrne and Baden note that the inclusion of participatory processes and gender sensitivity can speed up, rather than slow down, the relief to development transition.

This investigation has revealed many of the complexities of post-disaster seed relief and rehabilitation. In doing so, it is hoped that increased insight has been provided into the drawbacks and benefits of past experiences and provided an enhanced understanding of emerging strategies in the field.


Ways of responding to disaster

The specific information required would vary from disaster to disaster, but a basic, three -step processes includes:

(1)            Collect data,

(2)            Analyze data,

(3)            Respond to data.


The analysis involves collating and interpreting the data and can include asking questions as the following:

  • What problems are occurring? Why are they occurring?
  • Where are problems occurring?
  • Who is affected?
  • What problems are causing the greatest morbidity and mortality?
  • What problems are increasing or decreasing?
  • What problems will subside on their own?
  • What problems will increase if unattended?
  • What relief resources are available?
  • Where are relief resources available?
  • How can relief resources be used most efficiently?
  • What relief activities are in progress?
  • Are relief activities meeting relief needs?
  • What additional information is needed for decision making?

After answering such questions one can carry out the third part, i.e., planning an appropriate Response to the situation described in the surveillance data.

In developing this plan one will decide what types of relief responses are appropriate and what the relative priorities are among the relief activities.

This 3-step process of Data Collection, Analysis and Response can be described as a closed feedback system involving re-evaluation of relief needs and their effects.

Surveillance following a disaster evolves in phases:

  1. Immediate Assessment
  2. Short term assessment
  3. Ongoing Surveillance

Immediate Assessment

The object of this phase of surveillance is to obtain as much general information as possible and as quickly as possible.

The most basic information needed at this point is the following:

(1)            The geographical extent of the disaster-stricken area,

(2)            The major problems occurring in the area,

(3)            The number of people effected.

This information can be obtained by whatever means seems most efficient. Listening carefully and asking questions is the best way to begin.

An Arial survey may be useful in defining the geographical extent of the disaster-stricken area and in observing major damage and destruction.

Census data can be examined to determine how many people previously lived in the disaster-stricken area and thus were at risk.

Hospitals, clinics, and morgues, which were in operation, may be able to obtain numbers of known deaths and injuries.

It is useful to determine the most frequent causes of deaths and types of injuries in order to predict whether demands for medical care will be increasing or decreasing.

Some problems likely to occur after a disaster can be predicted according to past experience with that particular type of disaster.

For example, experience has shown that disruption of water supplies has often been a problem following earthquakes.

New types of disasters, such as chemical emergencies and nuclear accidents, still present many unknown problems. 


Short-term Assessment

The short-term assessment involves more systematic methods of collecting data and is likely to result in more detailed reliable information on problems, relief resources, and relief information on problems, relief resources and relief activities in progress.

One way to organize data collection during this phase of assessment is to divide the disaster-stricken area into smaller areas or “blocks” to be surveyed simultaneously by different workers or teams of workers.

Simple reporting forms can be developed and workers sent out to survey the different areas and report at a specified time.

The following is a list of Information, which may be needed in order to make relief decisions

  • The geographical extent of the affected area as defined by streets and other clear boundaries.
  • The number of persons known to be dead, possibly according to age groups and sex.
  • The estimated number of persons severely injured and / requiring medical care, possibly according to age group, sex, and type of injury or medical problem.
  • Estimated number of homes destroyed, homes uninhabitable, and homes, which are still habitable.
  • Condition of schools, churches, temples and other public buildings etc.
  • Condition and extent of water supply.
  • Condition and extent of food supply.
  • Condition of roads, bridges, communication facilities and public utilities.
  • Location and condition of health facilities
  • Estimates of medical personnel, equipment’s and supplies available
  • Description of relief activities already in progress, (E.g. search and rescue, first aid, food relief etc).


Ongoing Surveillance

Depending on the factors above, short-term assessment may take as little as 5-6 hours or up to 3-4 days. As early as possible, relief priorities should be determined, resources ordered and full scale relief activities initiated.

Once the short-term assessment is complete and appropriate relief is in progress, surveillance becomes an ongoing system.

When information obtained by the ongoing surveillance is analyzed, new problems may become apparent, requiring investigation.

The surveillance report is one way of coordinating different agencies and preventing duplication of relief efforts.

A relief plan developed during any of the surveillance cycle may include some or all of the following activities:

  • Rescue of victims
  • Provision of emergency medical care
  • Elimination of physical dangers (fire, gas leak etc)
  • Evacuation of the population (nuclear and chemical emergencies)
  • Provision of preventive and routine medical care
  • Provision of water
  • Provision of food
  • Provision of clothing
  • Provision of shelter
  • Disposal of human waste
  • Control of vector born diseases
  • Disposal of human bodies
  • Disposal of solid waste



Management of mass casualties is divided into three main areas

  1. Pre-Hospital Emergency Care

Search and Rescue

First Aid

Field Care

Stabilization of the victims



  1. Hospital Reception and Treatment

Organizational structure in the hospital with a disaster management team consists of senior officers in the medical, nursing and administrative fields

Standardized simple therapeutic procedures followed

  1. Re-distribution of Patients between Hospitals


The aim of the recovery phase is to restore the affected area to its previous state. It differs from the response phase in its focus; recovery efforts are concerned with issues and decisions that must be made after immediate needs are addressed. Recovery efforts are primarily concerned with actions that involve rebuilding destroyed property, re-employment, and the repair of other essential infrastructure. Efforts should be made to “build back better”, aiming to reduce the pre-disaster risks inherent in the community and infrastructure. An important aspect of effective recovery efforts is taking advantage of a ‘window of opportunity’ for the implementation of mitigate measures that might otherwise be unpopular. Citizens of the affected area are more likely to accept more mitigate changes when a recent disaster is in fresh memory.

In the United States, the National Response Plan dictates how the resources provided by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 will be used in recovery efforts. It is the Federal government that often provides the most technical and financial assistance for recovery efforts in the United States.

Phases and personal activities


Personal mitigation is mainly about knowing and avoiding unnecessary risks. This includes an assessment of possible risks to personal/family health and to personal property.

One example of mitigation would be to avoid buying property that is exposed to hazards, e.g., in a flood plain, in areas of subsidence or landslides. Home owners may not be aware of a property being exposed to a hazard until it strikes. However, specialists can be hired to conduct risk identification and assessment surveys. Purchase of insurance covering the most prominent identified risks is a common measure.

Personal structural mitigation in earthquake prone areas includes installation of an Earthquake Valve to instantly shut off the natural gas supply to a property, seismic retrofits of property and the securing of items inside a building to enhance household seismic safety. The latter may include the mounting of furniture, refrigerators, water heaters and breakables to the walls, and the addition of cabinet latches. In flood prone areas houses can be built on poles/stilts, as in much of southern Asia. In areas prone to prolonged electricity black-outs installation of a generator would be an example of an optimal structural mitigation measure. The construction of storm cellars and fallout shelters are further examples of personal mitigative actions.

Mitigation involves Structural and Non-structural measures taken to limit the impact of disasters.

Structural Mitigation:-

This involves proper layout of building, particularly to make it resistant to disasters.

Non Structural Mitigation:-

This involves measures taken other than improving the structure of building.


Personal preparedness focuses on preparing equipment and procedures for use when a disaster occurs, i.e., planning. Preparedness measures can take many forms including the construction of shelters, installation of warning devices, creation of back-up life-line services (e.g., power, water, sewage), and rehearsing evacuation plans. Two simple measures can help prepare the individual for sitting out the event or evacuating, as necessary. For evacuation, a disaster supplies kit may be prepared and for sheltering purposes a stockpile of supplies may be created. The preparation of a survival kit such as a “72-hour kit”, is often advocated by authorities. These kits may include food, medicine, flashlights, candles and money. Also, putting valuable items in safe area is also recommended.


The response phase of an emergency may commence with search and rescue but in all cases the focus will quickly turn to fulfilling the basic humanitarian needs of the affected population. This assistance may be provided by national or international agencies and organisations. Effective coordination of disaster assistance is often crucial, particularly when many organizations respond and local emergency management agency (LEMA) capacity has been exceeded by the demand or diminished by the disaster itself.

On a personal level the response can take the shape either of a shelter in place or an evacuation. In a shelter-in-place scenario, a family would be prepared to fend for themselves in their home for many days without any form of outside support. In an evacuation, a family leaves the area by automobile or other mode of transportation, taking with them the maximum amount of supplies they can carry, possibly including a tent for shelter. If mechanical transportation is not available, evacuation on foot would ideally include carrying at least three days of supplies and rain-tight bedding, a tarpaulin and a bedroll of blankets being the minimum.


The recovery phase starts after the immediate threat to human life has subsided. During reconstruction it is recommended to consider the location or construction material of the property.

The most extreme home confinement scenarios include war, famine and severe epidemics and may last a year or more. Then recovery will take place inside the home. Planners for these events usually buy bulk foods and appropriate storage and preparation equipment, and eat the food as part of normal life. A simple balanced diet can be constructed from vitamin pills, whole-meal wheat, beans, dried milk, corn, and cooking oil.  One should add vegetables, fruits, spices and meats, both prepared and fresh-gardened, when possible.

As a profession

Emergency managers are trained in a wide variety of disciplines that support them through out the emergency life-cycle. Professional emergency managers can focus on government and community preparedness (Continuity of Operations/Continuity of Government Planning), or private business preparedness (Business Continuity Management Planning). Training is provided by local, state, federal and private organizations and ranges from public information and media relations to high-level incident command and tactical skills such as studying a terrorist bombing site or controlling an emergency scene.

In the past, the field of emergency management has been populated mostly by people with a military or first responder background. Currently, the population in the field has become more diverse, with many experts coming from a variety of backgrounds without military or first responder history. Educational opportunities are increasing for those seeking undergraduate and graduate degrees in emergency management or a related field. There are over 180 schools in the US with emergency management-related programs, but only one doctoral program specifically in emergency management.

Professional certifications such as Certified Emergency Manager and Certified Business Continuity Professional are becoming more common as the need for high professional standards is recognized by the emergency management community, especially in the United States.


Role of the Community in Disaster Response

In 2007, Dr. Wayne Blanchard of FEMA’s Emergency Management Higher Education Project, at the direction of Dr. Cortez Lawrence, Superintendent of FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute, convened a working group of emergency management practitioners and academics to consider principles of emergency management. This project was prompted by the realization that while numerous books, articles and papers referred to “principles of emergency management,” nowhere in the vast array of literature on the subject was there an agreed-upon definition of what these principles were. The group agreed on eight principles that will be used to guide the development of a doctrine of emergency management. The summary provided below lists these eight principles and provides a brief description of each.


Principles: Emergency management must be:

  1. Comprehensive – emergency managers consider and take into account all hazards, all phases, all stakeholders and all impacts relevant to disasters.
  2. Progressive – emergency managers anticipate future disasters and take preventive and preparatory measures to build disaster-resistant and disaster-resilient communities.
  3. Risk-driven – emergency managers use sound risk management principles (hazard identification, risk analysis, and impact analysis) in assigning priorities and resources.
  4. Integrated – emergency managers ensure unity of effort among all levels of government and all elements of a community.
  5. Collaborative – emergency managers create and sustain broad and sincere relationships among individuals and organizations to encourage trust, advocate a team atmosphere, build consensus, and facilitate communication.
  6. Coordinated – emergency managers synchronize the activities of all relevant stakeholders to achieve a common purpose.
  7. Flexible – emergency managers use creative and innovative approaches in solving disaster challenges.
  8. Professional – emergency managers value a science and knowledge-based approach; based on education, training, experience, ethical practice, public stewardship and continuous improvement.


In recent years the continuity feature of emergency management has resulted in a new concept, Emergency Management Information Systems (EMIS). For continuity and interoperability between emergency management stakeholders, EMIS supports the emergency management process by providing an infrastructure that integrates emergency plans at all levels of government and non-government involvement and by utilizing the management of all related resources (including human and other resources) for all four phases of emergencies. In the healthcare field, hospitals utilize HICS (Hospital Incident Command System) which provides structure and organization in a clearly defined chain of command with set responsibilities for each division.

Within other professions

Practitioners in emergency management (disaster preparedness) come from an increasing variety of backgrounds as the field matures. Professionals from memory institutions (e.g., museums, historical societies, libraries, and archives) are dedicated to preserving cultural heritage—objects and records contained in their collections. This has been an increasingly major component within these field as a result of the heightened awareness following the September 11 attacks in 2001, the hurricanes in 2005, and the collapse of the Cologne Archives.

To increase the opportunity for a successful recovery of valuable records, a well-established and thoroughly tested plan must be developed. This plan must not be overly complex, but rather emphasize simplicity in order to aid in response and recovery. As an example of the simplicity, employees should perform similar tasks in the response and recovery phase that they perform under normal conditions. It should also include mitigation strategies such as the installation of sprinklers within the institution. This task requires the cooperation of a well-organized committee led by an experienced chairperson. Professional associations schedule regular workshops and hold focus sessions at annual conferences to keep individuals up to date with tools and resources in practice in order to minimize risk and maximize recovery.


The joint efforts of professional associations and cultural heritage institutions have resulted in the development of a variety of different tools to assist professionals in preparing disaster and recovery plans. In many cases, these tools are made available to external users. Also frequently available on websites are plan templates created by existing organizations, which may be helpful to any committee or group preparing a disaster plan or updating an existing plan. While each organization will need to formulate plans and tools which meet their own specific needs, there are some examples of such tools that might represent useful starting points in the planning process. These have been included in the External Links section.

In 2009, the US Agency for International Development created a web-based tool for estimating populations impacted by disasters. Called Population Explorer the tool uses Landscan population data, developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, to distribute population at a resolution 1 km2 for all countries in the world. Used by USAID’s FEWS NET Project to estimate populations vulnerable and or impacted by food insecurity, Population Explorer is gaining wide use in a range of emergency analysis and response actions, including estimating populations impacted by floods in Central America and a Pacific Ocean Tsunami event in 2009.

In 2007, a checklist for veterinarians pondering participation in emergency response was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, it had two sections of questions for a professional to ask them self before assisting with an emergency: Absolute requirements for participation: Have I chosen to participate?, Have I taken ICS training?, Have I taken other required background courses?, Have I made arrangements with my practice to deploy?,Have I made arrangements with my family?

Incident Participation: Have I been invited to participate?, Are my skill sets a match for the mission?, Can I access just-in-time training to refresh skills or acquire needed new skills?, Is this a self-support mission?, Do I have supplies needed for three to five days of self support?

While written for veterinarians, this checklist is applicable for any professional to consider before assisting with an emergency.

International Organizations

International Association of Emergency Managers

The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to promoting the goals of saving lives and protecting property during emergencies and disasters. The mission of IAEM is to serve its members by providing information, networking and professional opportunities, and to advance the emergency management profession.

Red Cross/Red Crescent

National Red Cross/Red Crescent societies often have pivotal roles in responding to emergencies. Additionally, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC, or “The Federation”) may deploy assessment teams (e.g. Field Assessment and Coordination Team – FACT) to the affected country if requested by the national Red Cross or Red Crescent Society. After having assessed the needs Emergency Response Units (ERUs) may be deployed to the affected country or region. They are specialized in the response component of the emergency management framework.

United Nations

Within the United Nations system responsibility for emergency response rests with the Resident Coordinator within the affected country. However, in practice international response will be coordinated, if requested by the affected country’s government, by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), by deploying a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team.

World Bank

Since 1980, the World Bank has approved more than 500 operations related to disaster management, amounting to more than US$40 billion. These include post-disaster reconstruction projects, as well as projects with components aimed at preventing and mitigating disaster impacts, in countries such as Argentina, Bangladesh, Colombia, Haiti, India, Mexico, Turkey and Vietnam to name only a few.

Common areas of focus for prevention and mitigation projects include forest fire prevention measures, such as early warning measures and education campaigns to discourage farmers from slash and burn agriculture that ignites forest fires; early-warning systems for hurricanes; flood prevention mechanisms, ranging from shore protection and terracing in rural areas to adaptation of production; and earthquake-prone construction.

In a joint venture with Columbia University under the umbrella of the ProVention Consortium the World Bank has established a Global Risk Analysis of Natural Disaster Hotspots.

In June 2006, the World Bank established the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, a longer term partnership with other aid donors to reduce disaster losses by mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in development, in support of the Hyogo Framework of Action. The facilities helps developing countries fund development projects and programs that enhance local capacities for disaster prevention and emergency preparedness.

European Union

Since 2001, the EU adopted Community Mechanism for Civil Protection which started to play a significant role on the global scene. Mechanism’s main role is to facilitate co-operation in civil protection assistance interventions in the event of major emergencies which may require urgent response actions. This applies also to situations where there may be an imminent threat of such major emergencies.

The heart of the Mechanism is the Monitoring and Information Centre. It is part of Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection of the European Commission and accessible 24 hours a day. It gives countries access to a platform, to a one-stop-shop of civil protection means available amongst the all the participating states. Any country inside or outside the Union affected by a major disaster can make an appeal for assistance through the MIC. It acts as a communication hub at headquarters level between participating states, the affected country and dispatched field experts. It also provides useful and updated information on the actual status of an ongoing emergency.

International Recovery Platform

The International Recovery Platform (IRP) was conceived at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan in January 2005. As a thematic platform of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) system, IRP is a key pillar for the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005–2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters, a global plan for disaster risk reduction for the decade adopted by 168 governments at the WCDR.

The key role of IRP is to identify gaps and constraints experienced in post disaster recovery and to serve as a catalyst for the development of tools, resources, and capacity for resilient recovery. IRP aims to be an international source of knowledge on good recovery practice.

National Organizations


The key federal coordinating and advisory body for emergency management in Australia is Emergency Management Australia (EMA). The five states and two territories each has its own State Emergency Service. The Emergency Call Service provides a national 000 emergency telephone number to contact state Police, Fire and Ambulance services. Arrangements are in place for state and federal cooperation.


Public Safety Canada is Canada’s national emergency management agency. Each province is required to have legislation in place for dealing with emergencies, as well as establish their own emergency management agencies, typically called an “Emergency Measures Organization” (EMO), which functions as the primary liaison with the municipal and federal level.

Public Safety Canada coordinates and supports the efforts of federal organizations ensuring national security and the safety of Canadians. They also work with other levels of government, first responders, community groups, the private sector (operators of critical infrastructure) and other nations.

Public Safety Canada’s work is based on a wide range of policies and legislation through the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Act which defines the powers, duties and functions of PS are outlined. Other acts are specific to fields such as corrections, emergency management, law enforcement, and national security.


In Germany the Federal Government controls the German Katastrophenschutz (disaster relief) and Zivilschutz (civil protection) programs. The local units of German fire department and the Technisches Hilfswerk (Federal Agency for Technical Relief, THW) are part of these programs. The German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr), the German Federal Police and the 16 state police forces (Länderpolizei) all have been deployed for disaster relief operations. Besides the German Red Cross[citation needed], humanitarian help is dispensed by the Johanniter-Unfallhilfe, the German equivalent of the St. John Ambulance, the Malteser-Hilfsdienst the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund, and other private Organization, to cite the largest relief organisation that are equipped for large-scale emergencies. As of 2006, there is a joint course at the University of Bonn leading to the degree “Master in Disaster Prevention and Risk Governance”


The role of emergency management in India falls to National Disaster Management Authority of India, a government agency subordinate to the Ministry of Home Affairs. In recent years there has been a shift in emphasis from response and recovery to strategic risk management and reduction and from a government-centered approach to decentralized community participation. The Ministry of Science and Technology supports an internal agency that facilitates research by bringing the academic knowledge and expertise of earth scientists to emergency management.

A group representing a public/private partnership has recently been formed by the Government of India. It is funded primarily by a large India-based computer company and aimed at improving the general response of communities to emergencies, in addition to those incidents which might be described as disasters. Some of the groups’ early efforts involve the provision of emergency management training for first responders (a first in India), the creation of a single emergency telephone number, and the establishment of standards for EMS staff, equipment, and training. It operates in three states, though efforts are being made in making this a nation-wide effective group.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations is responsible for emergency preparedness en emergency management on national level and operates a national crisis centre (NCC). The country is divided in 25 safety regions (veiligheidsregio). Each safety region is covered by three services: police, fire and ambulance. All regions operate according to the Coordinated Regional Incident Management system. Other services such as the Ministry of Defence, waterboard(s), Rijkswaterstaat etc. can have an active role in the emergency management process.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, responsibility for emergency management moves from local to national depending on the nature of the emergency or risk reduction programme. A severe storm may be manageable within a particular area, whereas a national public education campaign will be directed by central government. Within each region, local governments are unified into 16 Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups (CDEMGs). Every CDEMG is responsible for ensuring that local emergency management is robust as possible. As local arrangements are overwhelmed by an emergency, pre-existing mutual-support arrangements are activated. As warranted, central government has the authority to coordinate the response through the National Crisis Management Centre (NCMC), operated by the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (MCDEM). These structures are defined by regulation.


New Zealand uses unique terminology for emergency management to the rest of the English-speaking world.

4Rs is a term used to describe the emergency management cycle locally. In New Zealand the four phases are known as:

  • Reduction = Mitigation
  • Readiness = Preparedness
  • Response
  • Recovery

Emergency management is rarely used locally; many government publications retain usage of the term civil defence. For example, the Minister of Civil Defence is responsible for central government’s emergency management agency, MCDEM.

Civil Defence Emergency Management is a term in its own right. Often abbreviated as CDEM, it is defined by statute as the application of knowledge to prevent harm from disasters.

Disaster very rarely appears in official publications. In a New Zealand context, the terms emergency and incident usually appear when speaking about disasters in general. When describing an emergency that has had a response from the authorities, the term event is also used. For example, publications refer to the “Canterbury Snow Event 2002”


In Russia the Ministry of Emergency Situations (EMERCOM) is engaged in fire fighting, Civil Defense, Search and Rescue, including rescue services after natural and human-made disasters.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom adjusted its focus on emergency management following the 2000 UK fuel protests, severe flooding in the same year and the 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth crisis. This resulted in the creation of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (CCA) which defined some organisations as Category 1 and 2 Responders. These responders have responsibilities under the legislation regarding emergency preparedness and response. The CCA is managed by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat through Regional Resilience Forums and at the local authority level.

Disaster Management training is generally conducted at the local level by the organisations involved in any response. This is consolidated through professional courses that can be undertaken at the Emergency Planning College. Furthemore diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications can be gained throughout the country – the first course of this type was carried out by Coventry University in 1994. The Institute of Emergency Management is a charity, established in 1996, providing consulting services for the government, media and commercial sectors.

The Professional Society for Emergency Planners is the Emergency Planning Society.

One of the largest emergency exercises in the UK was carried out on 20 May 2007 near Belfast, Northern Ireland, and involved the scenario of a plane crash landing at Belfast International Airport. Staff from five hospitals and three airports participated in the drill, and almost 150 international observers assessed its effectiveness.

United States

Under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is lead agency for emergency management. The HAZUS software package developed by FEMA is central in the risk assessment process in the country. The United States and its territories are covered by one of ten regions for FEMA’s emergency management purposes. Tribal, state, county and local governments develop emergency management programs/departments and operate hierarchically within each region. Emergencies are managed at the most-local level possible, utilizing mutual aid agreements with adjacent jurisdictions. If the emergency is terrorist related or if declared an “Incident of National Significance”, the Secretary of Homeland Security will initiate the National Response Framework (NRF). Under this plan the involvement of federal resources will be made possible, integrating in with the local, county, state, or tribal entities. Management will continue to be handled at the lowest possible level utilizing the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

The Citizen Corps is an organization of volunteer service programs, administered locally and coordinated nationally by DHS, which seek to mitigate disaster and prepare the population for emergency response through public education, training, and outreach. Community Emergency Response Teams are a Citizen Corps program focused on disaster preparedness and teaching basic disaster response skills. These volunteer teams are utilized to provide emergency support when disaster overwhelms the conventional emergency services.

The US Congress established the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (COE) as the principal agency to promote disaster preparedness and societal resiliency in the Asia-Pacific region. As part of its mandate, COE facilitates education and training in disaster preparedness, consequence management and health security to develop domestic, foreign and international capability and capacity.

Challenges of Disaster Management

The Fritz-Georgetown meeting offered a unique opportunity for academics and operational agency staff to examine the “supply and demand” issues in humanitarian education and training. Participants in both operational and academic communities were selected because of their established commitment to expanding cooperation among their respective organizations. Acknowledging that systematic training for humanitarian agency staff is not a luxury but a necessity, the practitioners sought to identify the most productive training content, forms and venues, and the role of training in career development and advancement. Likewise, recognizing the importance of preparing the next generation of humanitarian professionals, the university representatives assessed the means by which courses, seminars, programs and university resources overall could be better suited to preparing students for careers within and related to public service and humanitarian work. All saw the advantages of building relationships that would foster knowledge sharing and joint training activities.

At the outset, participants identified major problems and gaps facing organizations involved in disaster management and complex emergency response, which should be addressed in training. They cited problems ranging from knowledge sharing mechanisms to fundraising from coordination and partnering to ethics. These themes were repeated throughout the proceedings. Training itself constitutes a serious challenge because of wide staff dispersal, multiple languages spoken and rapid turnover. These difficulties are exacerbated by a lack of resources, due especially to donor pressures to reduce indirect costs. Most donors have yet to be persuaded that systematic training and capacity building programs are essential elements for effective disaster and emergency responses and there is an evident need to bring more donors into discussions like the Georgetown-Fritz meeting. Additionally, there is paucity both of appropriate materials and of faculty who have the necessary balance of academic knowledge and practical experience.

The remaining discussion covered four overlapping themes:

1) Defining the humanitarian “profession,” and the role of training and education within that definition or, as the discussion demonstrated: those definitions;

2) The challenges both to agencies and universities in designing and implementing relevant training and education;

3) Opportunities for and limitations on collaboration related to different organizational cultures; 4) The importance (and inherent difficulties) of measuring effectiveness and evaluating performance.


Professionalism and Humanitarian Response

The participants discussed the pros and cons of this trend, identifying what skills and what kinds of knowledge need to be emphasized to best prepare humanitarian leadership for the kinds of emergencies emerging in the 21st century. A paper, “What does it mean to be a Professional Humanitarian?” and presentations by Peter Walker from Tufts University on professionalism and Dan Curran from Harvard University on humanitarianism and entrepreneurship guided this opening discussion.

Assuming there is a disaster management/humanitarian field, is it characterized as other professional fields are, by standards, educational degrees and membership requirements? The answer is, partially yes. This field, and the organizations within it, identify with specific value sets, skills and systems for organizing knowledge and procedures. The participants considered the increasing professionalization of the industry to be generally positive in view of the benefits gained from greater knowledge, higher standards, and technical competence.

Nevertheless, many participants also acknowledged disadvantages to the extent that establishing a professional corps for humanitarian work might mean excluding competent and innovative people who lack advanced formal education and professional degrees. Finding people with the intrinsic qualities such as motivation, critical thinking, communication skills, team building, problem solving, innovation etc. should remain a priority for recruitment efforts. Training can fill the gaps.

The discussion turned to barriers to greater professionalism of the field, as well as better management of operations. First, the field is poorly financed. It depends on few donors who make only short-term commitments. Second, decision-making throughout the system tends also to be short-term, reactive and opaque. Third, because of the unpredicatability of the location and size of disasters and emergencies, it is a challenge to recruit and train staff and expensive to retain them between crises. Thus, the industry is characterized by high turnover with little or no job security. Fourth, the public, private and international entities in the humanitarian field operate with overlapping roles and a lack of specific focus. The result is poorly managed competition and great difficulty achieving rationally coordinated actions.

While nearly everyone agrees that better management and marketing would increase the efficiency of humanitarian programs overall, there is still resistance to adopting lessons and practices gleaned from successful business operations. The resistance reflects a real gap in understanding between private and public sectors. Few schools of business offer courses targeted at the non-profit sector and fewer still attract students interested in the humanitarian field. While there may be a desire in the private sector to engage, partnerships with humanitarian organizations seem to be few and confined to the donation of cash or goods when disasters occur. There does not seem to have been a discussion of how the humanitarian and corporate sectors can collaborate with respect to expertise, talent or technology. In a nutshell, it seems that humanitarian organizations must more clearly articulate their needs and develop the ability to engage the private sector if they want access to their resources.


Training: Its Potential and Place in Humanitarian Careers

The next session identified the specific kinds of training and other forms of learning and competence building that should be incorporated into the activities of (different kinds of) humanitarian agencies, and at what stages of the staff development/ career path. Barbara Murphy-Warrington from CARE and Barbara Howald from OFDA introduced the discussion.

As explained by the organizational representatives around the table, training is essential to establish and maintain certain levels of skills and knowledge among their employees. Additionally, training for humanitarian staff, like training for today’s new business managers can, and indeed must, emphasize imaginative thinking and motivation, as well as concrete knowledge and technical skills. Providing training also helps to retain employees as they see prospects for advancing their career paths. For employees, training is beneficial not only because it increases skill levels but it also increases their commitment to the field.

That said, there is still considerable latitude in defining what core competencies need to be developed and in what balance. The discussion emphasized the importance of training in a wide variety of subject areas because employees need more than sectoral skills; they also need knowledge and skills that they can apply in a range of situations. Frequently staff members have mastered technical skills or country knowledge related to a specific position only to find that they are dealing with rapidly changing situations that modify their duties, and therefore require a wider breadth of knowledge. Participants listed a range of fields they felt to be relevant and amenable to training, including social, political and economic analyses, protection norms and practice, participatory methodologies, rights-based and gender sensitive approaches, psycho-social considerations, capacity-building and conflict management.

At the present time, humanitarian staff members are offered opportunities for training in a variety of forms: They receive on-the-job training for their specific tasks. Those in technical areas generally are given skills updates. Workshops are frequently offered both for agency personnel and, especially in the field, for local partners. And, increasingly, individual university faculty and inter-disciplinary university programs are assuming responsibilities for training humanitarian agency staff. All of these alternatives can be valuable depending on the purpose and circumstances. Each entity needs to take stock of its training needs and determine the format, venue, frequency and content of training options that most effectively meet these needs. The meeting participants explored the relationship between learning needs and the educational or training forms suited to meeting the needs. Both content and venue of training will vary depending on the purpose to be served, that is whether training is intended to impart specific skills, to enhance general knowledge or to inculcate the values of an organization in its employees.


Fostering Greater Collaboration between Humanitarian Organizations and Academic Institutions

Building on the discussion of training and education needs and capacities, the discussion turned to ways to promote greater collaboration between operational agencies and academic and training institutions. This session discussed successful models of collaboration, different organizational forms that academic collaboration may take, and ways to increase the synergies between universities and humanitarian agencies. Angela Raven-Roberts from Tufts University opened this discussion.

Fritz Institute is breaking new ground in recognizing the need for greater private sector involvement and in facilitating mutual learning. Private sector involvement in disaster management has already proven beneficial. The benefits are mutual, because in both cases, management and field staff face similar problems of security, culture and contextual understanding. The case studies that are meant to assist international businesses in problematic and dangerous countries can be used to advantage by humanitarian agencies as well. The agencies, in turn increasingly have been preparing and disseminating their own case studies which may find their way into corporate offices.

These observations and the opportunities they imply lead to questions of resources. Due to the already inadequate and declining funding for humanitarian agencies, they are facing staff shortages, are unable to fill gaps in service and, as previously mentioned, are under pressure to reduce what donors deem to be “indirect costs,” including training. Because the traditional governmental and international organizational donors will not, or can no longer finance such indirect costs, and because the private sector has long been contributing resources to university programs, attention now turns to possibilities of private sector contributions to long term research, case studies, visiting practitioners and other forms of education to enhance the fields of disaster management, emergency response, and conflict related development challenges.

There are many challenges to raising the level of training opportunities. Moreover, if training falls short of needs for larger agencies in developed countries, it is infinitely more deficient in those countries where humanitarian emergencies are likely to occur. Despite the frequent references to “capacity building” projects and commitments to strengthen local government and NGOs, the amount invested in such activities is minimal and sometimes amounts to little more than lip service. The largest problem, however, seemed to be knowledge sharing and management. Since it is impossible to offer training to everyone in the organization, especially to people in the field, practitioners are seeking ways to share knowledge better. This is of concern in the humanitarian field because of the high turnover and wide geographic spread of employees. Nevertheless, it is essential to expand training opportunities to local employees. Although many agencies keep information on the internet for employees, computer access can be a problem and most of the materials are solely in English.

Many participants pointed to the lack of curriculum related to humanitarian issues and of faculty who want to teach and pursue research topics in this area. Where humanitarian studies programs exist: Georgetown, Tufts, Harvard, MIT, Colombia, Johns Hopkins, Tulane, they are in multidisciplinary programs within a foreign policy or social science school, or schools of nutrition and public health. Traditional disciplines like anthropology, international law and political science have made important intellectual contributions, and less traditional but up-and-coming areas like security studies and conflict resolution often attract students whose interests merge with those of humanitarian studies. Nevertheless, for the kind of collaboration discussed in the meeting, academic resources are still not readily available, nor are there recognized publishing outlets. Humanitarian studies is notably less well established than the closely related and overlapping field of refugee studies, which has attained considerable academic attention—at least in schools of law—and has a number of dedicated journals. Participants at the meeting made suggestions for increasing contact and cooperation among interested academics, for example, by establishing a dedicated academic association and/or a journal, and they urged the hiring of more adjunct faculty. Other proposed actions were online courses and e-learning that reaches students and staff, including those in developing country partner institutions.


Evaluating Effectiveness: Indicators, Tracking, Program Assessments, and Staff Stability

The fundamental goals of all people who are devoted to disaster management and emergency response is to be as effective as possible, to empower rather than to create dependency, and to act in ways that are sensitive to culture, gender and individual rights. There are two fundamental difficulties in fulfilling these goals: first, almost every achievement involves some kind of trade-off. One sector gains, another loses; one reconstruction objective is completed, causing another to be postponed. Second, the urgency and complexity of the situations in which humanitarian interventions are required make it difficult to measure successes and failures with traditional assessment tools like log frames, indicators, etc. Accountability is another problem. Humanitarian actions should be made accountable, of course, but to whom? Stakeholders include governments, donors, the institution undertaking the work, and various categories of victims, whose interests do not necessarily coincide. There are further obstacles inherent in the field of humanitarian action related to the fast-paced nature of the work. Time is rarely set aside for quality monitoring and evaluation.

In practice, there is very little follow up to determine the impacts of disaster relief and emergency response. On this point, meeting participants argued forcefully for more monitoring and evaluation, as well as better methodologies for doing the monitoring and evaluation. Without these, organizations neither can be sure what has been achieved, nor can they improve. The notion that action should be based on “lessons learned” has become a well-worn phrase. However, several of the meeting participants noted that lessons do not appear to be learned, and the same mistakes are frequently repeated. The main obstacle to improving monitoring and evaluation are funding and, consequently, training. Thus the donors’ insistence on funding action programs while keeping overhead costs low proves costly because systematic learning is impeded. Participants discussed means to convince, or better said, “sell” donors on the benefits of monitoring and evaluation.

The funding gap promises to grow more severe due to the withdrawal of support from the Mellon Foundation. Nearly every participant in the Georgetown-Fritz meeting had benefited from Mellon support and expressed concern about preserving important projects in the coming year. Funding mechanisms under Mellon also fostered collaboration and coordination among academic centers. In the future, these centers will have to develop permanent mechanisms for continued cooperation. 

Conclusions and Next Steps

The workshop ended with discussion of next steps to promote improved training, education and collaboration between humanitarian organizations and academic institutions. For the agencies and donors, training must be recognized as a core activity, as essential to the operations of an agency as any other activity. Donors need to understand that training is the underpinning to successful completion of all other activities. However, simply increasing training opportunities is not a solution in and of itself. Equally important is to correctly diagnose what kind of training is needed based on the activities of the organization and the profile and assigned tasks of the individual. Moreover, although it may be more difficult to measure, trainings should cover not only technical skills, but also teach other skills that enhance innovation and problem-solving.

Training has been and will continue to be improved by greater collaboration between universities and agencies. The participants discussed how the increasing exchanges of staff between both universities and agencies through agency staff sabbaticals and field opportunities for university faculty are improving performance and products in many cases. Such exchanges could further assist training within both contexts by giving agencies and universities respectively a greater understanding of what the other has to offer. For example, case studies from the field could be used in university classrooms to teach practical problem-solving skills.

Suggestions for Agencies:

  • Hire staff with intrinsic qualities needed for successful humanitarian work such as motivation, critical thinking and communication skills and use training to teach other needed skills
  • Train staff in widely-applicable skills beyond technical ones; Include universities, university faculty, and academic resources for social, political and economic analyses related to ongoing programs, Include universities, university faculty, and academic resources in training related to rights based and gender sensitive approaches; protection norms and practice; participatory methodologies and; psycho-social considerations
  • Ensure that training increases staff capacity-building;

Involve staff in determining training and education needs

Use online courses and other e-learning methods to increase training opportunities for field and local staff

Provide training in languages besides English

Ensure that training is provided even in emergency situations

  • Encourage private sector involvement

Use private sector case studies for training in problem-solving.

Show how increased funding for humanitarian activities helps private sector as well

  • Incorporate “lessons learned” in future programming

Set aside resources and time for quality monitoring and evaluation

Encourage honest appraisal of difficulties and failures

Use lessons gained from monitoring and evaluation to design future training programs

Convince donors to fund quality monitoring and evaluation 

Suggestions for Universities

  • Work with agencies to design educational and training programs that meet the needs of the agencies
  • Develop multi-disciplinary curricula to prepare students for careers in humanitarian work
  • Seek faculty within the various disciplines who want to teach and research humanitarian issues
  • Increase awareness in the university community of the benefits of providing programs focusing on humanitarian fields, especially in the social sciences
  • Make available adjunct faculty and short-term sabbatical research opportunities for operational agency staff
  • Encourage faculty who are embarking on field research to contact and gain the assistance of humanitarian and development agency staff operating programs in the research areas
  • Facilitate cooperation and communication among university programs devoted to aspects of humanitarian studies and research
  • Create partnerships with developing country institutions

Devote resources to capacity building as appropriate

Encourage faculty and student exchanges

  • Consider establishing an academic association of humanitarian studies and/or a dedicated journal


Suggestions for Donors:

  • Recognize training as a core activity and fund it accordingly
  • Recognize monitoring and evaluation as essential to improving programming and fund it accordingly
  • Develop donor staff expertise related to training and to evaluation needs of humanitarian agencies
  • Make long-term funding commitments to allow agencies and universities to develop comprehensive training and education programs
  • Make long-term funding available for effective north-south partnership.
  • Fund proactive training and education programs for agencies and universities
  • Promote and fund collaborative programs between and among agencies and universities

Support adjunct faculty from agencies

Support faculty sabbaticals to the field

Support training and education programs developed from agency-university collaboration

Support partnerships and exchanges among universities, nationally and internationally


Private Sector Organizations

  • Encourage collaboration with and contributions to humanitarian training
  • Provide professionals to conduct training or provide expertise to help create training modules
  • Encourage the use of private-sector case studies by humanitarian agencies with funding and increased dissemination
  • Learn about the humanitarian issues and institutions working in the places where business is being conducted

Kenya Country Case Study:

Impacts and Responses to the 1997-98 El Niño Event

This project was carried out for Kenya, which lies between latitudes 5° North and 5° South and between longitudes 34° and 42° East on the eastern side of the African continent. Kenya has a land area of about 569,137 km2. It has a great diversity of landforms ranging from glaciated mountain peaks with permanent snow cover, through a flight of plateaus to the coastal plain. The country is split by the Great Rift valley into the Western part which slopes down into Lake Victoria from the Mau ranges and Mt. Elgon (4,300 m) and the Eastern part which is dominated by Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare mountain ranges that rise to altitudes of 5,200m and 4,000m, respectively.

The socio-economic problems experienced by Kenyans are varied including those arising from inequitable patterns of land ownership, a high population growth rate, rural-urban migration of the population, poorly planned urbanization, deforestation, a low level of literacy, and high levels of unemployment. Kenya’s population growth rate is still one of the highest in the world at 2.6 %. This implies that the economy of the country has to support a large and growing number of young people. This has also created rural-urban migration that over-stretches the resources in the urban areas leading to a decrease in the standards of land management, infrastructure, water, sanitation and municipal services. The result has been a steady decline of health and environmental standards as well as an increased vulnerability to human-made and natural disasters. Due to the population growth, there has been a noticeable rural-rural migration to the arid and semiarid land areas, affecting the ecosystems of these regions and rendering them more vulnerable to disasters such as drought and environmental degradation.

The above problems are coupled with high levels of poverty prevalent in all sections of the Kenyan society. According to a 1994 welfare monitoring survey, 48% of the rural population are food-poor, while 47% of the rural population and 29% of the urban population were identified as absolutely poor. A large number of the poor are living by either subsistence agriculture or employment in the urban informal sector. The recent El Niño (1997-1998) and the heavy rains of 1999 showed that those most affected by these natural occurrences are the poorer sectors of the population living in slums and squatting along flood and landslide areas. Poverty also seriously affects their resilience to disasters given the constant challenges for survival, which many face.

Kenya is characterized by its limited natural resources, especially water, minerals and agricultural land. This condition, coupled with the fragility of its ecosystems and vulnerability to increased pressure by human activities, raises critical environmental issues related to biodiversity, deforestation, desertification, drought, floods and water and air pollution. Forest resources and soil cover are being depleted due to the rapid increase in population and the demand for human settlements and agricultural land, grazing, sources of construction materials, food, fuel wood, essential oils and herbal medicines.

These factors make Kenyans highly vulnerable to any major disruptive activities, for example, damages caused by natural hazards such as floods and droughts. The number of deaths and injuries to both human beings and animals, damages to infrastructure, disruption of public services, and economic losses from man-made and natural hazards are on the increase and present a threat to the socio-economic development of the country.

In order to reduce the impacts of these hazards, it is necessary to put in place measures to manage the hazards before and as they occur. To do this, an early warning system must be in place to create awareness of the impending disasters and, hence, enhance preparedness. A system should also be in place to deal with the effects of an ongoing hazard. This requires the setting up of disaster mitigation and emergency response facilities. The main objective of this assessment is to review forecasts and impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño, as well as the climate-related early warning and natural disaster preparedness systems in Kenya in order to improve its ENSO coping mechanisms. Based on this assessment, the project identified research and policy needs and forms a basis for developing preliminary guidelines for future regional and national natural disaster preparedness plans for ENSO warm and cold events and their impacts. Specifically, the project is aimed at forming the basis for:

  • Identifying policy needs which can then be developed or incorporated into appropriate operational disaster management and research programs. This would include, but would not be limited to, those relating to the potential yet-to-be-identified linkages between ENSO and climate change.
  • Developing a preliminary set of guidelines for national and regional preparedness for ENSO’s extremes.
  • Designing a capacity-building program for fellowship and the training of mid-level resource and sector managers, post-graduate education, and outreach to the international academic and scientific communities.

Through an improved understanding of early warning, the project ultimately contributes to the safety and welfare of people and the environment by enhancing preparedness for the impacts of future ENSO warm and cold events.

In achieving the main objective, the project considered the impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño phenomenon on various sectors of Kenya. The responses of Kenyans to the phenomenon were also studied. In particular, the project studied the water resources, agricultural, transport, human health and the socio-economic sectors.

The short rains, which occur during the months of October to December, were extremely magnified during the 1997-98 El Niño episode. The rains, which started as normal rains in October in most parts of the country, picked up to flooding levels during the beginning of November and continued at high levels into January of the following year. They subsided slowly and ended by mid February 1998 in most parts of the country.

It was determined during the project that the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) had issued a forecast for the 1997-98 El Niño event as early as July 1997. According to the KMD, this forecast was sent to the Office of the President, Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Information, Transport and Communications, which are usually on their mailing list. The information was also sent to the Kenya Power and Lighting Company, which normally uses the monthly and seasonal rainfall forecasts for planning. This forecast was subsequently widely published through the electronic and print media. However, it was received with skepticism due to alleged earlier “wrong” forecasts from KMD. It was therefore not taken seriously, and hence no mitigation and/or emergency response procedures were put in place. In general, a sizable percentage of the Kenyan population were aware of the impending heavy rainfall in advance, but did very little to safeguard against its effects.

As the heavy rains hit the country and continued into December 1997, almost everybody realized that the warnings from KMD were real, and immediately thereafter, almost anything that happened to the water resources in the country was attributed to the El Niño. The interest in and awareness of El Niño was enhanced when its devastating impacts were seen throughout the country. The various articles and presentations in the print and electronic media created more interest and awareness on the subject. Due to its uniqueness, intensity and destructive power, the 1997-98 El Niño event was an intriguing phenomenon to many in the country, even to those involved in ENSO research. It was, therefore, not surprising that the 1997-98 El Niño was blamed for almost all the problems, that individuals, groups and the Kenyan population as a whole were facing, be they the worsening national economy, social ills and diseases, retarded national development or even domestic hardships. The resultant floods had wide-ranging positive and negative impacts on various sectors of the national economy. The sectors identified that were seriously affected were agriculture, water resources, transport, communications and health.


Water resources sector

The water resources sector was both negatively and positively affected by the 1997-98 El Niño event. The negative impacts included widespread flooding that led to the destruction of property in several sections of the country, increased soil erosion in areas with poor land use and management practices, and increased frequency of mud- and landslides, especially in the hilly areas. Other negative impacts included surface and ground water pollution, destruction of small storage earth dams, and the increased sedimentation and siltation in the rivers and streams that led to the sedimentation and siltation of the major water storage reservoirs. The general cost of these negative impacts amounted to about US$9 million. However, this sector also benefited from the excess rainfall during this period. Pollution loads were reduced through the washout effect of the rainfall, soil moisture for agricultural production was enhanced, and the water reservoirs were adequately recharged boosting the levels of the hydroelectric dams.

Agriculture sector

The agricultural sector was also negatively and positively affected by the phenomenon. The abundance of rainfall resulted in increased plant and animal diseases that affected the livestock and crop production in several regions in the country. The flooding also affected the farms through waterlogging leading to further reduction in yields, and destruction of livestock water facilities. Several cases of deaths of animals through drowning were also reported. The estimated combined loss suffered by this sector reached US$236 million.

However, in the arid and semiarid areas the rains were a welcome relief from the perennial dry situation leading to development of good pasture and the resultant improved livestock performance. Agricultural production in some areas increased due to the enhanced availability of moisture for the crops. The rains enhanced and prolonged the time of moisture availability for the biological soil and water conservation structures to take up. Tree planting and survival rates were generally increased to nearly 100 percent.

Transport and communications sector

The El Niño rains devastated the transportation sector. The accompanying floods and landslides wreaked havoc on the roads and transportation infrastructure throughout the country. Several bridges and an estimated 100,000 km of both rural and urban roads were destroyed leading to a general paralysis of the transportation system in most parts of the country. The estimated cost of these damages was about US$670 million. The aviation and shipping industries were also disrupted through the flooding of the facilities. Scheduled and chattered flights were disrupted due to poor visibility and the submergence of the navigational equipment and runways by floodwaters. The docking facilities at the shipping ports were also submerged in floodwaters making it impossible to off load merchandise from the ships. Telecommunications were severely affected by falling trees that destroyed the communication lines. The underground cable channels were also flooded, causing a disruption in services. Interruptions of electric energy supply were experienced as some equipment was destroyed by floodwaters, falling trees, and collapsing buildings. However, a positive effect of the event was experienced by the energy sector with the complete recharging of the hydroelectric dams and, hence, the enhancement of the production of electricity.

Health sector

The 1997-98 El Niño event greatly affected the health sector. Over 300,000 families were adversely affected by the phenomenon. The country’s health resources were stretched beyond manageable levels. Several health facilities were physically destroyed, water sources were contaminated, and there were increases in the number of stagnant water ponds, overgrowth around homesteads and market centers, blockage and overflow of sewers and open drains, and an increase in fly breeding as a result of decomposition of refuse. These factors led to an upsurge of disease epidemics and an increase in the morbidity and mortality rates.

All of the above impacts directly or indirectly affected the socio-economic well-being of the Kenyan society. The education sector was also affected, with schools being inaccessible because of flooding which led to closures or to low attendance rates. The end-of-year examinations were disrupted. Businesses were seriously affected through the aforementioned transportation and energy disruptions. The political general elections, scheduled for the end of 1997, were affected and by the problems in the transport sector and subsequently rescheduled. The heavy rains that were experienced also interfered with social functions, such as weddings, funerals and church services, during this period.

Considering the impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño event on various sectors of Kenya, it is evident that Kenyans were not adequately prepared and had no facilities in place to cushion the adverse impacts. Although the forecast was available in July 1997, no mitigation or emergency procedures were put in place. Due to the low frequency of widespread flooding problems in the country, the Kenya government had neither a flood disaster management policy nor an institutional framework to monitor and manage flood disasters prior to the 1997-98 El Niño floods. The only disaster management institution that was in operation during the early periods of the 1997-98 El Niño floods was The National Famine Relief Program, whose mandate is almost exclusively related to the monitoring and management of the negative impacts of droughts. This program was not well equipped to manage the impacts of heavy rains. Further, an attempt by the government to mitigate the effects of the negative impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño floods was hampered by the diversity of the impacts which could not, therefore, be handled by any one government ministry in isolation.

However, after the effects of the rains began, the government acted by setting up the National Disaster Operation Center to oversee and coordinate all efforts put toward addressing the serious impacts. It also embarked on a public awareness campaign through the electronic and print media and declared the floods a national disaster. Despite the limitations of the existing economic and financial constraints, the government spent large amounts of money to purchase and transport emergency food, water treatment chemicals and medical supplies to the worst-affected communities. It also approached donor countries and agencies to help defray the costs of rehabilitation and emergency operations.

The media played an important role during the 1997-98 El Niño event by publishing, on a daily basis, stories related to the effects of the event. It raised the awareness of the public as well as that of the policy makers. The private companies responded to the emergencies by pooling their resources together and participating in the rehabilitation of the infrastructure around them. They resorted to the use of diesel-generated power in cases where there were power interruptions and hence were able to maintain some production levels.

Lessons Learned

From the devastating impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño event, several lessons were learned. The scientific community, which is involved with research on the ENSO phenomenon and rainfall characteristics in the region, has learned that the warming (or cooling) of the Indian as well as Pacific Oceans adversely affects the rainfall patterns in Kenya considerably. However, research has not as yet revealed clearly the quantitative association between ENSO’s extremes in the tropical Pacific Ocean and the variations in rainfall in this region. A lot of effort is, therefore, being made to understand the frequency and occurrence of extreme rainfall events, and how these are related to El Niño. Several research papers have been produced on this topic, furthering our knowledge about it and El Niño’s teleconnections to Kenya. The relationship between the El Niño and the rainfall over Kenya is now relatively better understood leading to better rainfall forecasts.

The 1997-98 El Niño event hit the country at a time when the government had no plans or policies in place to deal with the associated flood and resulting health hazards. The country had neither a national plan nor a policy for responding to flood disasters that could impact negatively on national economic sectors such as agriculture, health, and infrastructure. The government has learned that such a plan or policy should be developed or added to either the National Disaster Plans or to the National Water Policy, with clear flood early warning and management mechanisms.

In addition, there are many uncoordinated efforts among different Early Warning Units in various departments and ministries such as the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the Department of Resource Survey and Remote Sensing (DRSRS), and the Arid Lands Resource Management Project (Office of the President), among others. It has, therefore, been proposed that coordination among the noted departments and ministries be strengthened and an early warning unit be established and be well equipped to enable it to monitor the situation on the ground and collect reliable data, which would enable the ministries to respond appropriately and effectively to disasters in their economic or social sectors.

Some of the other lessons learned include the following:

  • The forecast should, if possible, be for periods longer than 3 months, so that effective control measures can be put in place.
  • The storm drainage systems in urban areas should be maintained and serviced regularly.
  • The government should educate the public well in advance through pro-active awareness campaigns about possible El Niño-related disasters.
  • The Kenya Meteorological Department’s forecasts should be as accurate as possible.
  • The settlement of potential disaster areas, especially those in the flood plains, should be discouraged through a clear government policy.
  • In the future, planners should always incorporate climate and weather information in their planning activities.
  • The government should institute a policy or plan that supports flood prevention through integrated watershed development programs in eroded mountainous regions.
  • The government should also support the design and management of strategic food security reserves.
  • There is need to find a viable response to future disasters through intervention by, for example, capacity building for early warning and disaster preparedness.

Disaster Drill

A disaster drill is an exercise in which people simulate the circumstances of a disaster so that they have an opportunity to practice their responses. Disaster drills can range from earthquake drills in schools to multi-day exercises which may span across entire communities, including detailed simulations and a chance to work with the same equipment which would be utilized in a disaster. Such drills are used to identify weak points in a disaster response plan, and to get people familiar with the steps they need to take so that their response in a disaster will be automatic.

Disasters are unpredictable by nature, and this can make them difficult when it comes to preparation. Sometimes communities get advance warning, as in the case of some disasters caused by severe weather, while in other cases, disaster can strike in an instant in the form of an earthquake or a severe fire. If people do not practice their responses, they will usually not be prepared when disaster does happen; while a disaster drill may not anticipate every potential scenario, it gives people an idea of how to behave during a disaster.

On a basic level, drills can include responses by individuals to protect themselves, such as learning how to shelter in place, understanding what to do in an evacuation, and organizing meetup points so that people can find each other after a disaster. For emergency services and other first responders, disaster drills handle topics like what to do when communications are cut off, how to deal with lack of access to equipment, tools, and even basic services like water and power, and how to handle evacuations. A disaster drill also provides a chance to practice for events such as mass casualties which can occur during a disaster.

Regular disaster drills are often required for public buildings like government offices and schools. During the disaster drill, people are expected to practice things like evacuating the building and assisting each other so that they will know what to do when a real alarm sounds. People may also organize disaster drills for their families so that household members will know what to do in an emergency.

Community-based disaster drills such as whole-city drills provide a chance to practice the full spectrum of disaster response. These drills can include actors and civilian volunteers who play roles of victims, looters, and other people who may be encountered during a disaster, and extensive planning may go into such drills. A disaster drill on this scale may be done once a year or once every few years.

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