Emergency preparedness in practice
MAPUTO, Mozambique, 27 January 2012 – Given the relatively high frequency of natural disasters in Mozambique, UNICEF Mozambique, which has a function dedicated to emergency response and disaster risk reduction, has been able to develop good practice and procedures to prepare for and respond to emergencies.
“When we become aware of a possible emergency, staff members who may be deployed to the field are briefed and prepared, so that they are able to deploy on short notice,” says Hanoch Barlevi, Emergency/DRR Specialist at UNICEF, adding that at the early stage of emergency mobilization, checklists are used to ensure that all important issues and items are covered. The office also keeps buffer stocks of items that are normally needed in an emergency, and has standing agreements with transporters, so that supplies can be distributed quickly and effectively during a crisis.
“UNICEF follows a participatory approach to humanitarian assistance, which means that we engage the affected populations in a dialogue and encourage their participation in the decision-making processes to the extent possible,” says Barlevi.
“We attach great importance to both safety and communications, which is why all staff members in the field have a two-way VHF radio, as well as mobile phones or satellite phones, where those may be relevant,” explains Barlevi. Using the HF radios installed in all UNCIEF vehicles, drivers communicate with a central dispatcher at regular intervals.
In order to operate effectively under emergency circumstances, a system for cash payments of relevant expenses is also important. This usually involves the establishment of a Special Cash Account, but can also involve the transfer of funds into a staff member’s personal bank account, which in turn can be used to cover emergency expenses on the ground if a bank branch is within reach.
“The use of vehicles follows special security procedures,” explains Barlevi. “These procedures include limiting road travel to daylight hours and adapting travel plans both to local road conditions and feedback from staff on the ground or from the local population.” Other security measures include limits on the number of hours a driver can drive per day and ensuring that the driver gets sufficient rest.
“Being prepared to intervene in an emergency situation is to a large extent driven by two factors: coordination and practice,” says Barlevi. “In a situation where many entities are working in a complex and often unclear situation, it is important to coordinate often and have clear lines of authority and reporting, which is normally provided by the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC).” Practice is gained from participating in and implementing preparations and responses to emergency situations.
“We would of course prefer to avoid disasters and emergencies altogether, but that is not possible, so we are increasingly focusing on disaster risk reduction,” says Barlevi. At the fundamental level, DRR represents a shift in mindset from responding to an emergency to preparing for and mitigating the effects of a disaster. “Disaster risk reduction is increasingly becoming our main focus,” concludes Hanoch Barlevi, UNICEF Mozambique’s Emergency/DRR Specialist.
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