Assessments of disaster preparedness do not differ significantly for natural or environmental disasters. Although specialised teams of professionals may be required for specific situations, the principles and methods of the assessment will be basically the same.
Save the Children identified the following primary elements of the assessment of disaster preparedness.
- risks and vulnerabilities - the broad profile of a projected emergency,
- internal capacity - what individual organisations are capable of doing,
- external preparedness - what other actors are capable of doing,
- preparedness actions - results of the planning process.
Risks and vulnerabilities of communities are related to the likelihood of a disaster occurring. In essence, disasters are the realisation of risk. To assess the risks is to determine the probability of destruction and loss, whether they be human, structural, economic or political. Deaths, injuries, and loss of property, economy, or livelihoods are a few examples. Risks can be natural
. Certain communities are at risk for drought, flood, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters. Other communities may be at risk for war, terrorism and civil unrest. Disasters alone are not enough to cause widespread destruction. This is why assessment must include vulnerabilities.
Vulnerability is not a static concept. It fluctuates across time, seasons, and ages. It also depends upon certain people’s standing and positions in society. For example; women may be more vulnerable than men, children more so than adults, and marginalised groups such as disabled people, castes, ethnic groups and those of certain religious affiliations may be at a greater risk. When people are powerless, exploited, or discriminated against, they are more prone to vulnerability. They are overlooked during capacity building and encounter more difficulty in accessing resources. They are often unaware or unable to exercise their rights. There is little protection for their rights or freedom.
Changing the social, economic and political factors usually means altering the way that power is controlled. Unfortunately, inequality in power is often related to leadership that is corrupt, neglectful or unaccountable. Part of assessing vulnerability, consequently, not only involves identifying those who are vulnerable, but also identifying those responsible for violating the rights of the vulnerable. Furthermore, it is necessary to identify how equity within the community can be established by strengthening the rights and safety of those at risk. The vulnerability of a community is assessed by determining the conditions that increase their susceptibility to disasters and emergencies. One of the greatest determinants is an individual or community’s ability to anticipate, cope with, resist, and recover from a disaster or emergency.
Several factors can contribute to the impact of disasters and emergencies on an individual or community:
- physical – an individual’s physical well being;
- social – the amount of social support from family, friends, community;
- economic - stability in individual, family, community, regional, and national economy;
- environmental – the conditions of the environment such as terrain, infrastructure, humanitarian services, security, safety, food, water; and
- sanitation and levels of hygiene.
Measures can be taken to reduce or eliminate risks and vulnerabilities that have been identified. One way of assessing a community’s areas of risk and vulnerability is to explore its capacities to respond to a disaster.
- What is their awareness of the risks and responsibilities?
- Do they have a working knowledge of human rights and standards?
- What are their capacities in human resources and their ability to train additional workers?
- Are they able to mobilise their community and develop internal and external support networks?
- How up-to-date are their communication networks, media. and other mechanisms for dissemination of information?
- What is their level of mental health and psychosocial support in areas of health services, education, food and nutrition, shelter, water, and sanitation?
- If relevant, how have they responded in the past? What lessons have they learned?
Assessments of disaster preparedness are multi-faceted. To be fully effective, an assessment must be comprehensive at a global, national, regional, and community level. In our global society, disasters need no longer be dealt with in isolation or only at the local level. The rest of the world can be instrumental in the outcome of such tragedies by assisting with disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.
At country level,
analyse the risks and capacities, and whether or not an emergency preparedness programme is in place. At regional level,
identify national strategies and programmes; assess their capacity for technical assistance and human resources; assess their partnerships between agencies and organisations; assess past experiences in disaster preparedness. At a global level,
identify the policies, and improve any norms and standards that are weak or lacking; promote advocacy at international and interagency levels; assess the global level of preparedness and their areas of expertise; evaluate their coordination with regional offices and their relationship with the affected community; assess their capacity for responding, and providing what the local community is lacking. The capacity of partner organisations is also part of the assessment. Each organisation is responsible for doing their own (internal organisational) assessments. What are their areas of expertise? Where are they able to fill in the gaps? What has worked in the past? What lessons have they learned?
Strategies of partner and individual organisations should include the following
- develop evidence-based, replicable solutions;
- use their experience to advocate and mobilise better practices, policies, and programmes;
- support effective implementation of the practices, policies, and programmes;
- work with alliance members, communities, governments, and other partner; and
- include the affected population as equal partners with an active role in protecting themselves and responding to their own basic needs.
Humanitarian response remains critical, but it is now evident that the effects of emergencies and vulnerability of communities can be substantially reduced if both national and local authorities, and communities in high-risk areas are well prepared by having policies and programmes in place prior to the emergency.
Save the Children Organisation (2007). Emergency Preparedness and Response. Westport, CT: Save the Children.