Cover Image
close this bookCommunity Emergency Preparedness: A Manual for Managers and Policy-Makers (WHO, 1999, 141 p.)
close this folderChapter 4 Emergency planning
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentAn emergency planning process
View the documentPlanning group review
View the documentPotential problem analysis
View the documentResource analysis
View the documentRoles and responsibilities
View the documentManagement structure
View the documentStrategies and systems
View the documentContent of community emergency plans
View the documentSummary
View the documentReferences

Roles and responsibilities

Why describe roles and responsibilities?

Roles and responsibilities should be defined and described to ensure that each organization knows precisely what is expected of it and that everyone is aware of the general roles of all relevant organizations. The definition of roles and responsibilities may also assist in defusing rivalry between organizations competing for the same task or group of tasks, and will ensure that all tasks are allocated.

The following questions are relevant to the definition and description of roles and responsibilities:

· Is there an adequate description of who performs each task that is required?

· Is there an adequate description of the roles and responsibilities of each organization?

· Do members of each organization know the specific tasks to be performed by their organization?

· Do members of each organization know the general role of other organizations?

· Where is it possible to obtain the information to define and describe adequately the various roles and responsibilities?

· Which is the primary (or lead) organization for a given type of emergency, and which are the secondary (or support) organizations?

Information on roles and responsibilities

The first place to look for information on the roles and responsibilities of government organizations is legislation that describes their general functions and powers. These functions and powers are usually applicable to daily life but are also important in emergency management. For example, one of the major functions of the police is to maintain law and order, which they do every day as well as during emergencies. Government health organizations are usually involved in ensuring that steps are taken to maintain the health and well-being of the public; they will perform the same function during and after emergencies. Legislation may also provide for special organizational functions in emergency management.

NGOs often have a legislative or legal requirement to perform certain tasks. For example, industry has a responsibility to its neighbours. Any potentially harmful material in the control of an industry must be handled with sufficient care to ensure that it cannot escape and cause harm to neighbours. Potentially harmful material covers a range of possibilities, from large quantities of stored water in dams to small amounts of hazardous materials. Beyond legislation, there are likely to be interorganizational policies and agreements that affect the functions of organizations in emergency management. The resource analysis also assigns responsibilities to specific organizations for providing certain resources. Based on a vulnerability assessment and potential problem analysis, resource analysis will have determined many of the tasks required in response and recovery.

There are two suggested ways of describing roles and responsibilities: to describe them by task or to describe them by organization.

Describing roles and responsibilities by task

Describing roles and responsibilities by task assists those who want a quick overview of who is supposed to do what, and those who are responsible for controlling or coordinating emergency management activities. The description is based on a list of tasks and their allocation to the organizations. The tasks could be listed alphabetically or according to the aspect of emergency management to which they pertain, under the headings: Task, Lead organization, Support organizations.

Describing roles and responsibilities by organization

The description of roles and responsibilities by organization requires each organization to be listed and its roles described. This is useful for members of a specific organization as they can see at a glance what their organization has undertaken to do.

Assessing organizations

Organizations agree to perform certain tasks; it is therefore often necessary to assess how suitable and effective they are for an emergency response situation (5). This should be done by the planning group with all relevant organizations participating. Aspects of the assessment may include capability, availability, durability, and operational integrity.

Capability refers to whether an organization has the resources to carry out its assigned tasks. Obviously, the emergency management tasks allocated to an organization should be very similar, if not identical, to the tasks carried out by that organization under normal conditions. However, most organizations are rarely required to operate under emergency conditions, and an assessment of their ability to do so is essential.

Availability refers to how quickly an organization can apply resources in an emergency. Delays may occur because of the call-out of staff, the switching from normal activities to emergency operations, and the need to continue carrying out normal activities. Hospitals, for example, still need to treat and care for their normal patients and may rapidly become overwhelmed by an influx of new patients.

Durability refers to an organization’s ability to sustain emergency operations. The size and resource base of an organization will partially determine its ability to maintain operations round the clock for many days or even weeks. Organizations will often suffer damage themselves during an emergency and may therefore be less capable than usual. Emergency situations create personal and organizational stress; if an organization is not experienced in dealing with this stress or organized to adapt to it, its durability may be affected.

Operational integrity concerns the ability of an organization to operate autonomously. In emergencies, organizations should ideally be able to accept a task, request additional resources if necessary, carry out the task, and report its successful conclusion (or any problems) to the controlling organization.