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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


1. Contingency planning can be defined as:

A forward planning process, in a state of uncertainty, in which scenarios and objectives are agreed, managerial and technical actions defined, and potential response systems put in place in order to prevent, or better respond to, an emergency.


It is important to consider contingency planning as a planning process from which a: contingency plan is drawn.

The planning process involves a group of people or organizations working together on an ongoing basis to identify shared objectives and define respective responsibilities and actions.

3. Contingency planning is a pre-requisite for rapid and effective emergency response. Without prior contingency planning much time will be lost in the first days of an emergency. Contingency planning builds organizational capacity and should become a foundation for operations planning and emergency response.

When to Plan

4. In most cases field workers will know simply from experience and good knowledge of the current situation when it is prudent to plan.

5. There is no rule as to when to start contingency planning - except that, when in doubt, develop a contingency plan.

It is better to plan when it is not needed than not to have planned when; it was necessary.

Early Warning

6. Early warning signs of a potential critical event should trigger a contingency planning process. Early warning is the collection, analysis and use of information in order to better understand the current situation as well as likely future events. The particular focus is on events which might lead to population displacement. Early warning can come from a wide range of sources: governments, local population, political leaders, media, academia, refugees, international and national organizations.

7. The collection and analysis of early warning information should be integrated into the routine work of UNHCR offices. Regular monitoring and reporting, in a consistent format, is an important means to ensure that trends and patterns are recorded and that any changes indicating population displacements are spotted.


Where early warning information indicates the threat of a refugee emergency, contingency planning should be started automatically.

9. The most common emergency threat for UNHCR is a new influx or sudden increase in a refugee population. However, contingency planning should also take place in the midst of an existing operation. For example, contingency plans may be needed for a possible renewed influx, a natural disaster affecting a camp, an epidemic, an attack on a camp, violence in a camp, sudden spontaneous repatriation, or a security threat to staff or premises. In these situations the realities of the ongoing operation are well known, but contingency plans must be made for future developments for which one needs to be prepared.