Emergency Response Plans a Focus at InsideNGO

Washington[1]

This summer, nearly 1,000 representatives of NGOs gathered in Washington for several days of conferences and seminars. On the minds of many were emergency response plans and risk management and mitigation.

Emergency Response Plans are also known by several other terms – including the security plan, contingency plan, evacuation plan, emergency action plan, medical emergency plan and many other names.  But in my experience, it’s best to cover all contingencies that one could be faced with within one plan rather than have several separate plans.

One area of focus – and an area of great interest for NGOs – is how to develop a plan when starting operations in a new country. The process should be part of the program planning development process utilizing a template that can be completed very quickly at the onset of program activities.

Some points to consider:

  • In countries where programs already exist, review and update the ERP on an as-needed basis, or at least once a year.
  • The biggest issue with developing and keeping ERPs up to date is the lack of priority they are given by headquarters or senior management.
  • Safety and Security responsibilities should also be included in the job description of the CD/COP and should be part of their performance appraisal process.
  • There are ways to make sure this is given its due, however.  One way is to include this task – especially when there is no fulltime security professional on the project team – is to appoint a local staff member as the Safety and Security Focal Point (SSFP).  Include specific language detailed in the job description designating that person responsible for all safety and security issues/requirements and response within the project operational area.
  • The ERP responsibility can also be listed on tasks that an internal audit team would review.

And some pitfalls to avoid:

  • Most plans I have seen do not have specific details as to pre identified safe locations where help is available, medical facilities which have been audited, other resources such as other organizations to provide mutual assistance.
  • In urgent situations, no incident management team has been indentified and HQ senior management delay or fail to activate the crisis management team.
  • No scenario or training drills developed or not practiced on a regular basis.
  • At senior management meetings, field level safety and security is not on the agenda and the focal point has not been invited as part of the regular meeting.

Success stories reflect that those who have prepared and trained in advance cope better and manage the situations very well with successful outcomes.

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