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close this bookEmergency Information Management and Telecommunications - 1st Edition (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 1997, 62 p.)
close this folderPart 1: Information management systems
close this folderIdentification of information needs
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentInformation needs: “pre-crisis”
View the documentInformation needs: “with onset of crisis”
View the documentInformation needs: “post-crisis”

Information needs: “pre-crisis”

Information needs for contingency planning: Most emergency managers, in preparing for disaster, follow early warning signs and at least informally consider the contingency scenarios that might occur. Whether these functions are carried out formally or informally, most emergency managers understand that choices will have to be made concerning where and under what conditions their organizations will respond. These choices will naturally be guided chiefly by the agency’s mission and strategic plans for the country or region, as well as by existing resource realities. Once these constraints are clarified, then realistic contingency planning “boundaries” can be set, and the information needs of the emergency manager - including the early warning indicators to be followed - can be identified.



In identifying these information needs, it is critical to understand the links between the early warning system and the contingency planning process. Early warning is defined as: “the identification, interpretation, and recognition of events that would indicate a potential emergency.”1 Contingency planning is defined as: “a forward planning process, in a state of uncertainty, in which scenarios and objectives are agreed, managerial and technical actions defined, and potential response systems put in place to prevent, or better respond to, an emergency or critical situation.”2

1. Cuny, Fred. Emergency Preparedeness. Dallas: INTERTECT.

2. Contingency Planning, Complex Emergencies Training Initiative, October 1996, page 6.

Emergency managers responsible for contingency planning must first consider the types of hazards to which their area of concern may be subject. They must then make decisions concerning the particular hazards and the phase(s) of the disaster to which their organization can realistically be expected to respond.

The information system, prior to the actual crisis, helps the organization to make choices about its potential future responses.

This essential process of winnowing forces the manager to reduce a universe of great uncertainty to a smaller more manageable group of realistic contingencies. No longer faced by an overwhelming number of potential events, the manager can begin to identify the information needed to monitor those contingencies; he or she can select the indicators that should be tracked to warn that one or more of these contingency scenarios is likely to occur.

In short, prior to the emergency situation, an effective emergency information management system monitors and provides warning information to feed an ongoing contingency planning process which, in turn, aims to establish a realistic view of the organization’s capacity to respond to emergencies. The information system, prior to the actual crisis, helps the organization to make choices about its potential future responses and, where needed, set realistic limits.

Note: Early warning indicators and the relative accuracy of their predictability have been recognized for a number of natural disasters (see DMTP Module: “An Overview of Disaster Management.”) There is more disagreement, however, on the capacity of emergency managers to forecast the flare-up of complex emergencies, with some observers insisting that it will always be difficult to predict with any degree of certainty when or why or how people will react to deteriorating political, economic, or social conditions.

Other analysts claim, however, that there are indeed indicators - sometimes referred to as “root causes” or the long-standing, underlying causes of complex emergencies - which can help to signal the likelihood of another displacement or outbreak of conflict. Monitoring these root causes may well assist emergency managers to perform an early warning function for complex emergencies. Examples of these indicators include:

· deteriorating political conditions, increasing hostility between/ among political factions
· passage of repressive legislation or decrees
· hardening ideological stance
· long-standing ethnic, cultural, religious tension or violence
· worsening conditions of poverty
· military movements and occupations

Q. Identify one of the major hazard types your country confronts and the early warning indicators that might help emergency managers plan for this hazard. Which organization(s) should regularly receive this warning information in your country?

A. Type of hazard ________________________________________________

Early warning indicators ___________________________________________

Organization(s) needing info ________________________________________



Type: drought leading to famine

Indicators: decline in rainfall, disrupted rainfall pattern, late flowering of food crops, civil strife in food production areas, sales of household assets, decline in livestock prices, sharp increase in grain prices

Organizations: Host Government (Min/Ag, Min/Social Services, etc.); UN (DHA, FAO, WFP, Unicef, etc.); NGOs (local, international Red Cross/Crescent, etc.)

Vulnerability analysis: Emergency planners increasingly use information on differences in vulnerability3 to fine-tune their contingency planning scenarios. Vulnerability analyses ideally provide indications of where the effects of disaster are likely to be the most pronounced (ie, by region and population), and to assist managers with future targeting decisions. Data ideally are gathered from organized surveys such as Rapid Rural Appraisals or other household surveys. Where feasible, precise data are sought on specific locales or segments of a larger population.

3. Vulnerability is defined here as the measure of the risk of exposure to disaster of a given population, and of the ability of that population to cope with the consequences of that disaster.

Formal surveys may be used by relief agencies to fine-tune the targeting of large relief programs and to gather information on changes in coping strategies and in household assets. Because of the high cost of such surveys, however, most vulnerability analysis is performed using national data sets such as censuses, and income and expenditure surveys, which are then geographically disaggregated to the extent possible.

Where precise data are available, vulnerability analysis can fulfill an essential information.

The difficulty is that the national data sets for those countries most in need of vulnerability analysis are generally thin and often unreliable - which means that forecasts based on those data may be suspect. In cases where an analysis of vulnerability to, say, food insecurity is desired, proxy variables (eg, “poverty”) must often be used as the desired variable (food insecurity) was not included as part of the national data set. As well, those wishing to use vulnerability analysis to help make decisions about future emergency responses should be aware that analyses based on existing national data sets often cannot be performed at a low-enough administrative level to assist actual targeting needs. According to WFP:

“In a country where both population data and income and expenditure data are so weak, room for error increases as the process extends down the administrative hierarchy. In the case of Sudan and Kenya, the Province is probably as far as the data permits. In such countries this approach may therefore be only of limited use from WFP’s perspective.”4

4 Ibid, page 6.

Nevertheless, where precise data are available, vulnerability analysis can fulfill an essential information need in helping decision makers better target future responses.


The Republic of Zenon

Background: The Republic of Zenon is a small, heavily populated country situated on the coast of a major land mass in the Tropics. The coastline forms its eastern and southern borders; to the north is the country of Nortenia. The fertile coastal plain is inhabited by farmers who work small subsistence rice paddies. The central and northern regions are mountainous, and here small farmers strive to eke a living from severely eroded hillsides denuded by years of deforestation.

The poverty of the mountainous regions has driven thousands of families into the northern regional capital of Montano and on to the national capital, which is situated not far from the southern coast. Government efforts to relocate migrants to Port Sound, a controversial new town built in a marshy area on the coast several kilometers from the capital, were abruptly halted two years ago when Hurricane Eva ripped through the area, destroying much of the low-cost housing projects, leaving thousands homeless. With the end of the Port Sound housing initiative, northern migrants have increasingly filled the squalid shanty towns in the hills around Montano.

The democratically-elected, parliamentary Government of Zenon has proven to be remarkably stable despite two years of accusations from opposition parties that its ill-conceived housing policies led directly to the deaths of nearly 600 people in the Hurricane Eva disaster. Relations with its northern neighbor, Nortenia, remain tenuous at best. The Government of Nortenia, a military dictatorship led for the past sixteen years by the much feared General Noxuto, continues to accuse the Zenon Government of stirring up resentment among various factions in southern Nortenia, some of whom are ethnically related to the peoples of Zenon.


Early Warning in Zenon: On his first day at the office, the new director of the Emergency Preparedness Committee (EPC) in Zenon is appalled to find a total lack of awareness of the need for early warning on the part of his staff.

His assistant, a long-time EPC staff member who appears embittered by his failure to be named as head of the EPC by the Prime Minister, tells his new boss somewhat haughtily, “Early warning is really a waste of time and money for EPC. The IHTN - that’s the International Hurricane Tracking Network - is fully capable of handling hurricane warnings. There’s really no need to spend resources on early warning at our level. When there’s a problem, they let us know and we deal with it.”

That morning, the Zenon Daily Times reports increasing tensions just across the border to the north in neighboring Nortenia. The article notes, “President-for-Life Noxuto of Nortenia has announced he is sending the national guard to put a stop to the land-grabbing Marxist peasants’ in southern Nortenia. President Noxuto also announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the southern zone. The national security of Nortenia is at stake,’ he said. Those who are innocent have nothing to fear.’”

Q. You are the EPC director. What is your response to your assistant? What measures do you plan to take?

A. ____________________________________________________________