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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder4. Contingency Planning
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentPlanning as a Process
View the documentContingency Planning Tasks
View the documentCharacteristics of a Good Plan
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes

Planning as a Process

10. Planning is an ongoing activity; the planner needs to constantly assess the situation and adjust objectives and courses of action to take account of developments.

11. A static contingency plan is soon out of date and breeds a false sense of security. By reviewing and updating planning measures regularly, the preparedness measures in place can be kept appropriate and adequate.

12. One of the most important contributions of the contingency plan to emergency response often comes from the process itself: identifying working partners, their capabilities and resources, developing a working relationship with them and coming to a common understanding of the issues, priorities and responsibilities.

The capacity of the actors to respond in an emergency will be enhanced by their previous involvement in the contingency planning process.

13. Both contingency planning and operations planning set strategic and sectoral objectives and develop an action plan to achieve these objectives. The major difference between the two is that contingency planning involves making assumptions and developing the scenarios upon which planning is based, while in operations planning, the starting point is known, and the planning will build on needs and resources assessments.

Figure 1 - Differences between Contingency Planning and Emergency Operations Planning


Contingency plan

Operations Plan

Relation to emergency event



Scope of plan

Global or scenario based

Both strategic and specific

Partners involved

All likely partners

Operational and implementing partners only


Developing agreed scenarios

Effective and rapid response




Planning Style


Directive and consultative




Time frame

Floating, uncertain

Fixed, immediate


14. Many pitfalls in contingency planning can be avoided by planning collectively, marshalling the widest range of local skills, and complementing these by external inputs.

Contingency planning is best achieved through a cooperative and coordinated effort wherein all concerned work together with shared objectives over a period of time.

A single meeting that produces a plan is usually insufficient and the product often inadequate. The contingency planning process therefore revolves around regular meetings and follow up.

15. The participants in the contingency planning process should include those who might be involved in the emergency response, including the government, agencies, representatives of donor governments and local organizations and expertise. Contingency planning meetings are sometimes called "roundtable" meetings to stress the importance of participation by all involved. The views of one agency may differ from others, but this will often be to the advantage of the planning process since it provides a useful forum for all assumptions to be questioned and refined. The end product is thus more realistic. While UNHCR may facilitate the roundtable, the role and importance of each participant must be respected.

16. A contingency planning meeting should produce a draft contingency plan containing the following:

i. Scenario identification;

ii. Strategic objectives;

iii. Sector objectives and activities.

Subsequent meetings should review early warning indicators, report on actions taken since the previous meeting, and update the existing plan.

17. Inputs into these meetings include specialist expertise and advice, results from field visits, and statements of agency policy. Outputs include the contingency plan, draft budgets and standby arrangements such as stockpiles.