Are we ready to respond?

Over 30 countries roll out new approach to emergency preparedness

When a crisis hits, speed is of the essence. Quickly getting aid to people hit by a natural disaster or caught up in fighting can save lives and prevent a bad situation from spiralling into a full-blown emergency. Clean water helps prevent disease outbreaks; tarpaulins shield displaced families from blistering heat or bitterly cold winds; food assistance protects hungry people from malnutrition and starvation.

Being ready to respond to breaking crises requires preparation, by Governments and relief organizations. Recognizing this, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee adopted the Emergency Response Preparedness (ERP) approach in 2015, as the international community’s agreed way to prepare for crises requiring a coordinated humanitarian response. The aim of the approach is to increase the speed, volume, predictability and effectiveness of aid delivered immediately after the onset of a crisis. Just one year later, the approach has been rolled out in 30 countries around the world. From Ecuador to Timor-Leste; Ukraine to Burundi, humanitarian partners are coming together to make sure that their systems are up to scratch to respond if disaster strikes.

Protection of Civilians site Tomping, Juba, South Sudan. Photo: Jacob Zocherman

The ERP approach has three components: risk analysis and monitoring; basic preparedness measures that are relevant for a range of risks; and advanced preparedness measures that kick in once a specific and likely risk has been identified. The approach replaces earlier guidance on contingency planning. Sixty-five countries have been identified for implementing the ERP approach by the end of 2016.
The ERP approach was designed to be practical and flexible. It provides a check-list for Humanitarian Country Teams to agree on a risk analysis for their respective countries, and review their basic systems and capacity for coordination, information management and emergency response. As capacity to respond to crises inevitably differs between countries, an added goal of the ERP is to flag gaps where external support is required. For example, in 2015 Burundi found itself in political turmoil. Humanitarian partners developed a contingency plan which showed that – were the situation to deteriorate – half a million people could urgently require assistance. By contrast, partners in country only had capacity in-country to assist around 10,000 people in the first weeks of an eventual crisis. This kind of analysis is essential for mobilising the right kind of support from regional offices, headquarters and member states in terms of surge staff, technical support and relief supplies.
The ERP approach also recognizes that many of the things a humanitarian community can do to be ready to respond apply to a range of different hazards. In Nepal in 2015, for example, the humanitarian community had just gone through an ERP review to prepare for potential floods when a major earthquake struck. In speaking about the lessons drawn from that experience, the former Humanitarian Coordinator in Nepal, Jamie McGoldrick, explained that “the networks that were created through the ERP put us in a very good position when the earthquake struck.”
Being ready to respond to breaking crises is an essential part of humanitarian action, and the shared responsibility of all partners in relief operations. The ERP approach provides practical tools to make it happen. For more information, download the ERP Guidelines, the ERP At a Glance or the Frequently Asked Questions about the ERP. You can also visit

Five facts about the ERP approach

1. It’s flexible

The ERP approach focuses on outcomes rather than process, and actions to improve preparedness should be adapted to fit the context in any given country. The approach is considered implemented when:

  • Risk analysis is done and risks identified are monitored regularly;
  • Key actions to enhance preparedness are identified, and prioritized actions are implemented; and
  • Gaps that cannot be addressed through in-country capacity are communicated to the regional and global levels.

2. It’s an inter-agency approach

The ERP approach was developed and adopted by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee. As such, it is a joint tool for enhanced readiness to respond. Several organizations are now also using the ERP approach to improve their own internal preparedness for emergencies.

3. It’s part of the Humanitarian Programme Cycle

The ERP approach is part of the Humanitarian Programming Cycle. The approach gives Humanitarian Country Teams the opportunity to analyze and monitor risks and this analysis should be part of the inter-agency Humanitarian Needs Overview and related response plans. However, the added value of the ERP approach is that it is an operational tool to ensure that there are concrete systems in place to respond to needs quickly as they arise.

4. It usually doesn’t require additional resources

Most of the work involved in the ERP approach relates to things that are already part and parcel of humanitarian operations and do not require significant additional resources, i.e.: setting up solid coordination mechanisms; improving management and sharing of information; mapping capacity to respond among national and international partners. Improving preparedness using the ERP approach is not an additional burden on partners, but a way to improve what they are already doing.

5. It applies to protracted emergencies as well as sudden disasters

The ERP can be used in protracted crises to foresee and prepare for spikes in need. Such spikes could be due to seasonal factors, patterns of violence, or access to a previously inaccessible areas. The approach is also useful in reviewing the ongoing response to an emergency, to identify ways to increase the speed and efficiency of the operation.




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