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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder6. Operations Planning
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOperations Planning Tasks
View the documentAllocation of Responsibilities
View the documentAnnexes


1. An emergency response requires good planning. An important aspect of planning, particularly in an emergency situation, is the development of an operations plan. The "Operations Plan" is a vital management tool which should be based on a problems, needs and resources assessment. The plan should determine programme priorities, set objectives, and specify actions that need to be taken by the actors responsible for the various sectors of an operation. Specific tasks in an emergency and the parties responsible for the implementation of these tasks need to be clearly identified and a plan formulated in as clear and concrete a way as possible.

At the start of an emergency there is a tendency to postpone planning, both because information is not available and because there are obvious urgent needs which can be met piecemeal, without a plan. This tendency should be resisted.

2. The more critical the situation, the more important it is for the operations manager to find the time to take stock, determine priorities and develop a plan for what needs to be done, when, by whom and how.

3. Ideally, the operations plan should make use of the contingency planning process, partners identified, and resources prepared, as well as the plan itself. As the same principles of planning apply, the structure of the operations plan can be based on the contingency plan (also attached here as Annex 1). There are a range of additional considerations beyond what is included in the Contingency planning format, many of which will be addressed over time. However, the main differences between contingency planning and operations planning and the characteristics of a good plan are discussed in chapter 4 on contingency planning. The tasks and approach will be different primarily because of assessments - in operations planning, the starting point is known and assessments of the situation replace the contingency planning scenarios and many of the assumptions.

4. The views of the refugees should be taken into account in drawing up the operations plan. They are the single most important resource in meeting their own needs, and will have definite ideas on how this may best be done. The plan must strengthen the refugees' own resources and self-reliance and avoid creating dependency. The plan should also reflect the aim of a durable solution.

5. The operations plan must be comprehensive, identifying all problems, needs and resources whether these are met through UNHCR or by other organizations and sources of funds. Drawing up the operations plan should be a team effort. Clear direction must, however, come from the government and/or UNHCR.

The most effective operations plans are those developed by or with the people who will implement them.

6. Although the plan should be comprehensive, this should be balanced by the need to produce the plan quickly, so that in rapidly evolving emergencies the plan will not become outdated before it is finished. In addition, lengthy plans can be difficult to update. Characteristics of a good plan are discussed in paragraphs 23 to 25 of chapter 4 on contingency planning.


It should be stressed that, as with contingency planning, operations planning is a process.

A plan, as a document, is not an end in itself but simply a record of the process. It should be kept updated in light of the evolving situation: implementation of the plan should be monitored and corrective action taken, and the plan should then be adjusted and revised. The operations plan must be made available to all who need it.

8. This chapter focuses on operations plans developed with partners. However, planning within the office should not be neglected -simple plans of action at each administrative or office level within UNHCR should also be drawn up, from site to Headquarters, tying in with the overall operations plan and involving the same principles: clarifying objectives, allocating responsibilities, defining activities to achieve objectives, and defining coordination mechanisms such as staff meetings (discussed in chapter 20 on administration and staffing).