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close this bookAn Overview of Disaster Management (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1992, 136 p.)
close this folderChapter 7. Disaster preparedness
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentComponents of disaster preparedness
View the documentPreparedness for slow onset and sudden onset disasters
View the documentPreparedness within the United Nations 2
View the documentChecklist of basic information required by a UN-DMT 3

Components of disaster preparedness

There are nine major components involved in disaster preparedness which provide a framework upon which a national disaster preparedness strategy can be developed.

Disaster Preparedness Framework

Vulnerability Assessment


Institutional Framework

Information Systems

Resource Base

Warning Systems

Response Mechanisms

Public Education and Training


Assessing vulnerability

Fundamental to all aspects of disaster management is information. It is a point that may appear obvious, but it is frequently overlooked. The disaster manager may know that a particular geographic region or community is susceptible to the impacts of sudden or slow-onset hazards. However, in reality, until a decision is made on systematic ways to compile and assess information about disaster vulnerabilities, the manager is and will be working in a void.

Developing and compiling vulnerability assessments is one way of approaching a systematic means of establishing an essential disaster management tool. There will be more on this subject in the next chapter.


Throughout all the activities designed to promote disaster preparedness, the ultimate objective is to have plans in place that are agreed upon, that are implementable and for which commitment and resources are relatively assured. The plan itself will have to address other points in this framework.

Institutional framework

A coordinated disaster preparedness and response system is a prerequisite to any disaster preparedness plan. Each system design will depend upon the traditions and governmental structure of the country under review. However, without ensuring that there is “horizontal coordination” at central government levels among ministries and specialized government bodies and “vertical coordination” between central and local authorities, a plan will rapidly disintegrate. This requires a structure for decision-making, inter-ministerial committees to coordinate the plan, focal points within each ministry to be responsible for the plan implementation and communication, as well as regional and community structures to implement the plan at the local level.

Information systems

The preparedness plan must have an information system. For slow onset disasters this should consist of a formalized data collection process, and early warning system (especially for regions prone to famine), and monitoring system to update the early warning information. For sudden onset disasters a similar system must be in place for prediction, warning, and evacuation communication.

Resource base

The requirements to meet an emergency situation will clearly depend upon the types of hazards the plan anticipates. Such requirements should be made explicit, and should cover all aspects of disaster relief and recovery implementation. The range of relief requirements is too extensive to put in this module, but this list indicates some of the major requirements:

supplementary food
communications systems
logistics systems
relief workers
clearance equipment

Warning systems

For most types of rapid onset disasters, a warning system can save many lives. By giving a vulnerable population adequate notice of an impending disaster, they can either escape the event or take precautions to reduce the dangers. However, you must assume that functioning communications systems, such as telephones and telexes, may not be available in times of a major disaster. Begin to plan a warning system around that assumption. Consider what type of communications equipment will be needed and sustainable if power lines and receiving stations are destroyed. Preparedness plans should include provisions for access to alternative communication systems among police, military and government networks.

Warning is also critical for slow onset disasters and population displacements. In this case it is called early warning and has to do with information and its distribution regarding either:

giving timely notice of an impending world crisis in the supply of food
making ready for or preventing forced migrations of people.

Response mechanisms

The plan’s ultimate test is the effectiveness of response to warnings and disaster impacts. At a certain stage in the warning process, various responses will have to be mobilized. The staging of responses becomes an essential factor in designing a preparedness plan. Chapter 9 lays out the required responses.

Public education and training

The focus of a disaster preparedness plan should be to anticipate, to the extent possible, the types of requirements needed for action or responses to warnings and a disaster relief operation. The plan should also specify the most effective ways of ensuring that such requirements are met. Yet, the process will only be effective if those who are the ultimate beneficiaries know what to do in times of disasters and know what to expect. For this reason, an essential part of a disaster preparedness plan is the education of those who may be threatened by disaster. Such education takes many forms, such as: (1) Public education in schools for children and young adults, emphasizing what actions should be taken in case of a disaster threat (for example, earthquake tremors); (2) Special training courses, designed for an adult population either specifically or as an extra dimension of on-going programmes such as Preventive Health Care or Maternal and Child Health programmes; (3) Extension programmes, in which community and village-based extension workers are instructed to provide relevant information and trained for the tasks they should undertake during the event; (4) Public information, through mass media, be they television, radio or the printed word, will never really replace the impact of direct instruction. However, if sensitively designed and presented, mass media may provide a useful supplement to the overall educational process.

Rehearsals (drills)

Fujieda, Japan School children practicing an earthquake safety drill.

From Nature on the Rampage. Photo by Paul Chesley.

As military maneuvers cannot fully portray the reality of battle, neither can disaster preparedness rehearsals portray the full dynamics - and potential chaos - of a disaster relief operation. However, that fact should provide no excuse for avoiding the need to rehearse the disaster preparedness plan. Not only will rehearsals reemphasize points made in separate training programmes, but they will also test the system as a whole and, invariably, reveal gaps that otherwise might be overlooked. 1

1 The preceding part of this chapter is drawn from the UNDP/UNDRO training module, Disaster Preparedness. by Randolph Kent.