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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

Operations Planning Tasks

9. Operations planning involves the tasks set out below:

i. Review existing plans and information in the contingency plan;

ii. Assess problems, needs and resources: identify critical unmet needs.

The problems, needs and resources assessments determine what must be done, and where the priorities are. Assessment of problems, needs and resources is part of planning: plans must be updated to take account of new assessments and progress in implementation. Identify critical unmet needs using the results of the assessments and comparing these with established standards - the determination of the standards to which assistance should be delivered is of fundamental importance. The resources which are available and those which are required must also be identified. Resources includes human resources and personnel, local and international implementing and operational partner organizations, and material resources.

At the early stages of a major emergency, it is unlikely that resources will be sufficient to meet all needs, thus prioritization will be an important part of operations planning.

iii. Set overall goals

The overall operation and strategic goals must be clarified. All other objectives and activities should be consistent with these overall objectives. In formulating objectives, the single most important question to ask is, "What is the intended result?" Objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable and realistic, and the time frame within which they should be reached should be specified.

iv. Clarify planning assumptions

It will also be necessary to clarify the main constraints, planning assumptions and principles behind the emergency operation. These should be set out explicitly, including an explanation of the role, responsibilities and policies of the government, UNHCR, other UN organizations and operational partners. In addition, standard or established procedures, such as monitoring and coordination mechanisms, MOUs etc. should also be set out. Similarly, standards in various sectors and any specific guidelines necessary should be specified (where the plan includes objectives, outputs and activities on a sector by sector basis). Although these issues should have been in the contingency plan, they will need to be revisited in the light of the problem and needs assessments, and restated as necessary to new partners, so everyone is working with the same assumptions and to the same standards.

v. Determine the courses of action to reach overall objectives (implementing arrangements).

Consider various options to reach objectives, their advantages and disadvantages; which are flexible, which are the most efficient and effective? Choosing an option for implementing arrangements which retains flexibility is important in a rapidly changing situation. Chapter 8 on implementing arrangements discusses this in more detail.

vi. Determine objectives and courses of action to reach objectives at sector level.

Decide on the objectives, activities and outputs for each sector. As with contingency planning, this is the most detailed part of the plan. The organization with operational responsibility for a particular sector or site should draw up the plan of action for that sector or site.

vii. Allocate responsibilities

Responsibilities (both within UNHCR and between different actors in the operation), need to be clearly stated.

viii. Determine coordination mechanisms

Coordination mechanisms should be established between the different actors in the operation. Coordination at different geographical levels (e.g. at the site and in the capital or regional city) needs also to be assured. In a large operation, it may be necessary to have separate coordination mechanisms for sectors.

ix. Determine monitoring mechanisms

From the start, the management of a refugee emergency must include continuous monitoring (by measuring the indicators of performance), reporting and evaluation in order to ensure that the objectives remain appropriate as circumstances change, and the activities to fulfill the objectives are being carried out effectively.

x. Record and disseminate the plan, monitor progress, take corrective action, and adjust and revise the plan.

Effective Planning Guidelines for UNHCR Teams (updated in January 1999) provide more details on managing the planning process at all levels of an operation in the most effective and efficient way possible. The assumption underlying this emphasis on the planning process is that better planning processes lead to better quality results delivered on time in a cost effective manner.

Figure 1 - an example of a Gap Identification Chart




Overall site management

Agency M

Agency M

Agency R





Food distribution

Agency B

Agency K


Agency B

Agency Y


Agency W

Agency W


Agency H

Agency H