Section 3: Key Actions within 72 Hours of Disaster


Implementing disaster response

Activate preparedness plan

Who does this: member/country programme

All ActionAid countries, but particularly those that are disaster prone (to both natural disasters and/or conflict)see The Hive – should develop an emergency preparedness plan before a crisis. This sets out the basic information that is required to assess and prepare for likely disasters. It also provides an action plan for the member/country programme to ensure that ActionAid staff, partners and communities know what to do in a disaster and are ready to respond quickly and effectively. During the 2012-2017 strategy period IHART is working with 24 countries identified as the most vulnerable to disasters, to develop and implement emergency preparedness plans. (see The Hive for the list of prioritised countries).

The preparedness plan includes a range of information, including:

  • Analysis of the likely threats in ActionAid’s working areas (see risk assessment guidance presentation.)

  • Basic information that will be needed to assess the scale of humanitarian need and ActionAid’s response (e.g. population figures for ActionAid’s working areas, economic and social data, community access and preferences for communications channels etc.)

  • Pre-planned response activities for likely disasters (e.g. what ActionAid would do in the event of a flood or earthquake.)

  • Details of pre-qualified suppliers and procurement processes.

  • Contact details for relevant staff, partners and external institutions.

  • Action plan to build the necessary capacity among communities, ActionAid staff and partners.

Implementation of the plan should start immediately after it is developed, and the member/country programme should be working to build capacity before emergencies. In the event of an emergency, the plan will be activated and the pre-agreed response activities will be put in place to guide the response. Further information on developing and implementing a preparedness plan is included in Section 6 and a template can be found at the HIVE

Deploy IHART International Programme Manager (IPM)

Who does this: IHART

In ORANGE and RED alert emergencies, IHART may deploy an IPM to support the member/country programme to implement an emergency response. The IPMs are senior members of the IHART team, who have responsibility for emergency preparedness and response in a specific geographic region. Currently there are two IPMs – one for Asia, and one for Africa and the Americas. The IPM will be deployed within 48 hours, and will help the member/country programme start response activities in the first critical days after the disaster. She or he will also help to set up systems to manage the longer term response. The IPM will remain in country until the response can be handed over to the member/country programme team – deployments normally last between one week and one month.

Once a disaster has been declared as an ORANGE or RED alert, IHART will contact the member/ country programme to arrange deployment of the IPM. IHART will arrange logistics for the deployment and will cover all the IPM’s costs. The member/ country programme will be expected to provide logistical support, for example in providing visa invitation letters and arranging local transport and accommodation.

If more than one ORANGE or RED alert crisis happens in the same region simultaneously, IHART will make additional staff available for deployment, either from the IHART team or the EFAST roster.

Conduct a rapid assessment

Who does this: member/country programme, with support of IHART

The purpose of a rapid assessment is to gather basic information about the disaster and the impact on the communities that ActionAid works with. It should describe: what has happened, who is affected, what help is required.

The rapid assessment has several purposes:

  • to allow ActionAid to make a timely decision on what scale of response (if any) is required

  • to identify the needs of affected communities and the type of support they require

  • to build relationships with communities affected by disasters

  • to identify what additional capacity the member/country programme will require to respond

  • to inform fundraising decisions around the need for public appeals and wider fundraising activities

  • to inform communications to external audiences and for media

  • to inform policy positions and advocacy work at various levels.

The rapid assessment is different to the detailed needs assessment, which should be conducted later in the process (see Section 3). A needs assessment generates detailed and specific information about the needs of disaster-affected communities, and is used to develop a detailed Emergency Response and Resilience Building Plan (ERRP). The rapid assessment should focus on gathering ‘just enough information’ to inform decisions on whether to respond and what the immediate priorities should be.

When should a rapid assessment be done?

The rapid assessment should start as soon as possible after the disaster and be completed within 72 hours or sooner. The information may not be perfect or complete, but it is critical to have the basic information within the first two to three days. This is because the quicker ActionAid can start responding, the higher the chance of saving lives. The assessment can be updated and more detailed information added later – the rapid assessment only has to provide ‘just enough’ information to enable us to start responding.

Speed vs. Accuracy


From a fundraising perspective, it is also important to have basic information quickly. For example, the DFID rapid response facility requires that applications be submitted within 12 hours of the call being made (usually very soon after a disaster hits), whilst ECHO primary emergency funding applications need to be submitted within 72 hours of the call for proposals being issued, in order to secure funding for the first one to three months of the response. These funding mechanisms are described below under fundraising.

What information needs to be gathered in the rapid assessment?

The rapid assessment should describe what has happened and what the impact has been. Much of it is common sense. Imagine you are the first person to arrive at the scene of a disaster – if you had to explain to your colleagues back at the office what you saw, what kinds of information would you think were important? You would probably tell them: what sort of damage you could see; how many people had been killed and injured; what help those people were asking for. The rapid assessment simply provides a framework to guide you in collecting this kind of basic information and communicating it in a way that is easy to understand and use.

Key questions include:

  • How many people have been affected? In what ways are they affected (killed, injured, houses damaged, houses destroyed, crops destroyed)?

  • What does the community identify as their immediate needs?

  • What support is already being provided/planned by other actors and the communities themselves?

  • How do communities expect the situation will develop over the next month?

  • What has been the specific impact on women?

  • What are the information needs of the community, and what communication channels are operational after the disaster? The checklist in Annex 3 sets out suggested detailed questions to be asked for a rapid assessment.

Compare these two pictures of Kenya:


The picture on the left would allow you to make a detailed description of the boy. But, by seeing only half the picture you would miss the most significant thing that is going on – the Kenyan drought. The picture on the right gives you a much better idea of the whole story.

The golden rule is: half the whole picture is better than the whole of half the picture!

Who should ActionAid work with to conduct the rapid assessment?

In an emergency, it is likely that other humanitarian actors will be working in the affected area (community based organisations, local or national government, other INGOS, national NGOs, UN agencies, etc). ActionAid should work together with other actors where possible to avoid duplication and to maximise the information that is generated on the impact of the crisis. If the UN clusters are activated, ActionAid should share rapid assessment data with other cluster members, and participate in joint assessments where possible.

How should the information be gathered?

Secondary data

The rapid assessment can include estimations, based on pre-collected data and past experience. For example, the Emergency Preparedness Plan (EPP) will include data on how many people live in certain areas, including how many people fall within vulnerable groups. You can use this to estimate how many people may be affected, based on your sample. It is important to defi ne what is data that has been collected from communities, and what are assumptions.

You should also consult secondary sources that are available, for example rapid assessments produced by the government or other NGOs, Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) situation reports, information updates from the UN clusters, media reports etc. These can provide important information about the national or regional situation, which can supplement and contextualise data from ActionAid’s working areas.

Information can be collated from a range of sources such as internet searches, social networks, donor networks, phone conversations with local partners, etc.

Conducting some research before going to the community also allows the assessment team to share information on the disaster and what support is available. For example, they may be able to alert the community to relief that is on its way, or inform people what level of compensation they are entitled to from the government.

For ORANGE and RED alert disasters, IHART’s Information Officer (contact details Annex 4) will also support the member/country programme to identify and analyse secondary data at the global level.

Primary data

The rapid assessment should include information gathered directly from the community. As time and human resources will be limited, you should consider selecting a representative sample of communities from the affected area. When selecting villages, consider the following factors to ensure you have a representative sample: different ethnic communities, distance from the road/ towns, distance from the centre point of the disaster, etc. For reasons of practicality you may have to select based on accessibility (for example it may be impossible to reach certain areas due to flooding or conflict). The rapid assessment report should make clear how the sample was selected.

A range of participatory tools can be used to collect this data. Possible methods include transect walks, maps, calendars and time lines. It is highly likely that there will be people within the country team who have expertise on participatory methodologies who should be consulted on best practice. A book which is highly recommended for reading is Methods for community participation, by Somesh Kumar. While it may be difficult to conduct participatory surveys in disaster-affected areas, some of these tools may be useful in giving a quick sense of the scale of the disaster. You will need to consider that communities are under high stress when responding to these surveys. It is important that any information collated during a rapid needs assessment is triangulated and validated.

Links to additional reading materials for rapid assessments can be accessed on the Hive

In ORANGE and RED alert disasters, IHART’s International Programme Manager (IPM) will be responsible for co-ordinating the rapid assessment process and drawing together the information collected.

How should the information be shared?

The data and conclusions of the rapid assessment should first be shared with the affected communities. Before leaving, the team should feed back to community members (particularly women) how they have understood the situation and what they understand as the needs and priorities of the community. They should also explain what will happen next – how the information will be used, when ActionAid will return and what the community can expect. It is important to be careful about managing expectations and not promising things that ActionAid cannot deliver. The team should emphasise that ActionAid will work with the community to respond to the disaster, and will support the community to be the primary responders.

The results of the rapid assessment must also be sent as quickly as possible to IHART, who will share this information across the federation. The rapid assessment checklist in Annex 3 can be used as a template for writing up the rapid assessment. This is designed so that the information is easy to use for the different end-users (member/country programme staff responsible for designing the response, fundraisers, communications staff, IHART etc). However, information gathered in the rapid assessment does not always need to be communicated in a long, formal report. It can be shared through emails and phone calls if this is more convenient. The most important thing is for the information to be shared quickly – if this means putting it in an email or phoning IHART (contact details Annex 4), please do this! The report can follow later.

Guidance on conducting a rapid information assessment (to identify lifesaving information needs, communications channels available etc.) can be found here.

Country level media landscape guides developed by the Infoasaid project are also available online for 22 countries. They provide comprehensive and detailed information on the media and telecommunications landscape, including details of coverage and community usage of radio, television, newspapers, mobile phones etc.

Commence immediate relief activities

Who does this: member/country programme

There is no standard set of activities that constitute emergency response – it depends on the context and the needs of the community. The response should start as soon as possible; it can even start in parallel to the rapid assessment if certain needs are evident. For example, if it is clear that there has been widespread damage, when visiting communities to conduct the rapid assessment you could distribute emergency supplies of food, water and emergency shelters to sustain people through the first days of the emergency until the response programme can be started at scale.

During the first 72 hours, the focus should be on immediate lifesaving activities. Examples of such activities include:

  • Distribution of emergency food supplies (these should be culturally appropriate and based on the normal food consumed by local communities). Think about how the community will prepare the food – if people have no cooking utensils or fuel you will need to either provide these or provide ready prepared meals, or food that can be eaten without cooking.

  • Provision of emergency drinking water supplies.

  • Distribution of emergency shelters (tarpaulin sheets, tents) and blankets.

  • Supporting community committees to organise search and rescue activities (if this is not being organised by specialist agencies or government). Ideally this expertise would have been built as part of the preparedness plan and necessary equipment and skills provided at community level, but it may be necessary to provide tools and equipment identified by the community.

  • If you can, community representatives should be involved in selecting samples and in procuring items from local markets. But in situations where this cannot be done immediately (e.g. if villages are cut off from markets or where markets are not functioning) it may be necessary to take quick decisions on behalf of the community and provide urgently needed items to bridge the first few days until the bulk of procurement and distribution can be started.

  • Establishing two-way communications channels and providing lifesaving information to communities. This could include key messages to help communities avoid risk (such as health and hygiene messages, information on aftershocks following an earthquake etc.) and information on assistance available from ActionAid and other agencies (such as planned relief distributions, registration points, government assistance announcements).

  • Establish basic accountability mechanisms to ensure accountability to disaster-affected communities – these should be in place right from the start of the response and can be very simple things. For example, provide information on how communities can provide feedback or raise complaints (such as a phone line, complaints box, community focal points etc). Also provide information on the organisation and our response (including what will happen with the rapid assessment findings, selection criteria for who is receiving aid, what the next steps are) – this can be through community meetings, display boards or simple leaflets.

As you will see from the list above, these activities are highly dependent on context (geographic location, time of year, type of disaster etc). For example, it would not be a priority to distribute blankets in very hot weather, or to distribute temporary shelters if there was not widespread damage to housing.

The most important thing is to follow the three C’s:

  • CONTEXT: make decisions based on your (or partners’) knowledge of the local situation, and as soon as possible through consultation with the community. This means being aware of cultural or religious factors (providing clothing and food that people are familiar with and that they will be able to use), thinking about the disaster and the type of impact that is likely to have occurred (e.g. is it a low lying area where houses are likely to have been destroyed by flooding, or an exposed mountainous area where temperatures will be cold at night?).

  • COMMON SENSE: emergency response is not a mysterious art completely different from your everyday experience and expertise. Based on your knowledge of the context and the information available, use your judgement to apply the key principles, and take the decisions that make the most sense at the time. You might not be right every time, but using common sense will almost certainly do better than if you try to follow a ‘cut and paste’ approach that has been designed elsewhere.

  • CONSISTENCY: right from the outset, it is important to build trust with the community and follow the principles that ActionAid applies in its overall work. For example, we prioritise women’s leadership in the response process, we are accountable to the communities we work with, and we take sides with people living in poverty and exclusion. Consistency also means providing information to people about what ActionAid is doing (how the results of the rapid assessment will be used, when ActionAid staff will be returning, what resources we have available to support communities) and following through on promises made.

Commence immediate relief activities

Who does this: IHART

EFAST is a roster of trained practitioners across the ActionAid federation, who are available to provide additional capacity to members/country programmes in emergencies (see Section 1). They can be deployed within 48 hours to a disaster-affected country.

Member/country prpgramme contacts IHART requesting EFAST deployment (phone/email or in sitrep)

IHART identifies appropriate person to deploy

IHART arranges logistics for deployment

The member/country programme can request an EFAST deployment by contacting IHART – this can be done by phone or email (contact details Annex 4) or by including a request in the sitrep (Annex 5). IHART will then match the requirements of the country programme to the list of EFAST members and identify the appropriate person. IHART will arrange the logistics for deployment (booking flights, linking with the member/country programme to arrange visas, pre-deployment briefings, etc). IHART will provide advice and guidance to the member/country programme on how to support the EFAST deployee while in country.

The costs for EFAST deployments (flights, accommodation, salary costs for deployee) can be met in different ways depending on the situation. If the member/country programme has funds available from existing budgets or reserves, they will be asked to cover the EFAST deployment costs. If the member/country programme is not able to cover the costs, then the deployment can be paid from IHART’s emergency response fund, the DPRF, (see Section 3). If subsequent appeal funds are raised, this money can be used to reimburse the deployment costs to the DPRF. IHART will discuss financing of the EFAST deployment with the member/country programme when a request is made.

Deploy national EFAST members

Who does this: member/country programme

In addition to global EFAST (see above), ActionAid also has national EFAST rosters in some countries. This is a list of external consultants, volunteers and staff who are available to provide additional capacity to the member/country programme to support disaster response.

As part of the preparedness plan, it is important to consider arrangements for deploying national EFAST members, including consultancy contracts, insurance, security arrangements, line management and supervision by ActionAid staff etc.

The member/country programme is responsible for covering all costs relating to national EFAST deployments.