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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder20. Administration, Staffing and Finance
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentEmergency Staffing
View the documentBudget and Finance
View the documentNon-Expendable Property and Office Supplies
View the documentOffice Premises
View the documentOfficial Transport
View the documentOffice Organization
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes

Emergency Staffing

(See Checklist section on Personnel, Staff Conditions & Security). See also the Staff Rules and the Staff Administration and Management Manual, also the InSite database available on CDRom.


4. As soon as possible the Head of Office should communicate to Headquarters the projected staff requirements at both general service and professional levels with the necessary detail to enable Headquarters to review these in accordance with established personnel procedures and to approve the staffing table for the emergency. Emergency staffing resources should be used for the initial emergency period only. In the initial period, prior to the creation of posts, national staff could be recruited and paid for under Temporary Assistance.

5. There should be no delay in committing necessary personnel. However, solely adding personnel will not meet the organizational needs of an emergency: the operations plan and definition of responsibilities must determine personnel needs, not vice versa. Experience shows that for a given operation, smaller teams with clear allocation of responsibilities are usually more successful than larger teams whose members have less clearly defined roles.

Additional staff, who are unclear as to their role, will add to the management burden in an emergency

Staffing must be flexible. Numbers are likely to vary over time.


6. It is important that the different advantages of national (also referred to as local) and international staff are understood, and that these different strengths are properly incorporated into a staffing plan. National staff members understand the local situation and are sensitive to issues that often escape the notice of the international staff member. They often enjoy a wide range of contacts that enable them to "get things done".

7. Very significantly, national staff may speak the refugees' language. Correspondingly, international staff members bring to the operation an impartiality and an embodiment of the international character of UNHCR, which is essential. They will also have experience from elsewhere to contribute to the management of the emergency.

8. Headquarters is responsible for international staff identification, recruitment and deployment. The need for international staff will depend on the scale of the emergency and implementing arrangements.

UNHCR has developed a number of standby arrangements whereby suitable international staff can be deployed rapidly to an emergency operation.

9. The following table shows staff functions which may be needed in a large emergency.

Type of function

Overall management and leadership

Management of the administration in large emergencies

Core UNHCR functions in an Emergency Team: Field, Protection, Programme

Administrative and finance functions for an Emergency Team, to set up new offices and train staff

Community services functions

Supply and transport functions

Technical functions - technical coordinators (e.g. for health, water, nutrition) and - other technical support e.g. health assessment, epidemic preparedness and response, health monitoring systems, engineering (physical planning, water, sanitation, roads)

Support functions, e.g. base camp management, telecommunications and staff safety

10. The need for at least the following international staff (comprising an emergency team) should therefore be considered in a large scale emergency.

Emergency Team Leader (with one of the senior officers also possibly acting as Deputy to Team Leader);

International Secretary or Assistant for the Team Leader;

Senior Protection Officer;

Protection Officer(s);

Senior Programme Officer;

Programme Officer(s);

Sector Coordinators, e.g. Community Services, Water, Health, Nutrition;

Field Officers deployed at the refugee sites;

Senior Administrative Officer;

Finance Officer/Personnel Officer;

Staff Safety Officer;

Public Information Officer;

Logistics Officer;

Telecoms Officer.

11. The emergency team could be composed of staff deployed from emergency standby arrangements only, or a mix of the latter plus UNHCR staff already posted to the area. Emergency standby and staffing arrangements include an internal roster of UNHCR staff and emergency standby arrangements with other organizations. Details of these arrangements can be found in the Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources, Appendix 1.

12. For all staff, prior experience of an emergency operation is of course, a great advantage.

The overriding staffing priority is to fill key managerial posts with experienced UNHCR staff of the right calibre.

13. In a country where a major emergency is added to a previous small-scale programme it may be necessary to replace the existing Head of Office with a more experienced Head of Office at least for the duration of the emergency.

14. Administrative staff are another priority. An experienced administrative assistant will be an essential member of the team if a new office is being opened, and in large emergencies experienced finance and personnel officers are likely to be necessary. Without persons with these skills, other staff will have to devote a disproportionate amount of time to UNHCR internal administration. National administrative staff must be identified and trained, but this in itself requires experienced supervision.

15. Each refugee emergency will require a certain number of specialist skills even at the assessment and initial phases of the emergency. Where these are not available in-country, the assistance of Headquarters for recruitment of specialists through standby arrangements should be sought without delay. See Appendix 1, Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources for more details of these standby arrangements.

16. Informal volunteers, both nationals and members of the diplomatic and expatriate communities may come forward to help. The value of these outside volunteers will vary considerably with the situation. It will be important to assess the skills of the volunteers, the time they can devote and the availability of management personnel needed to coordinate and support them.

Lack of proper supervisory support may lead to the volunteer taxing already overextended staff as much as, or more than, the value added.

Reporting lines

17. In situations where an emergency team is deployed to an area of the country where there is no UNHCR office, the emergency Team Leader will normally report to the UNHCR Representative in that country or the Regional Representative or Special Envoy as appropriate in the individual circumstances.

18. When an emergency team is deployed into an area where a UNHCR office already exists and has responsibility for the operation, then the emergency team should integrate into the staffing structure of the existing office. The decision as to who should head the operation, the existing Head of Office or the Emergency Team Leader, will depend on the circumstances and the relative experience and seniority of the individuals. The decision as to who will head the operation must be clearly communicated to all staff at the outset to avoid any ambiguity in responsibilities and reporting lines.


19. Sound personnel management, supervision and leadership are very important to the success of an emergency operation, but can easily be overlooked. The initial motivation of those involved is a major asset, but for persons at levels that do not allow an overview of the operation, this can be replaced by disappointment and frustration if supervisors are too busy to plan, organize, direct, control and continue to motivate their staff.


Responsibilities, roles and tasks must be dearly defined and understood.

Job descriptions are the most common management tool for defining individual responsibilities, even if the imperatives of an emergency mean their frequent revision. They are important for UNHCR staff, and even more so for seconded staff (such as United Nations Volunteers - UNVs, consultants and staff deployed through the emergency standby arrangements), and informal volunteers. Responsibility should be delegated to the lowest possible level, and with it must go the necessary authority. Responsibility without authority is useless.

21. Staff meetings should be convened regularly from the start. Team welfare will have an important bearing on the success of the emergency operation.

Everyone must be made to feel part of the UNHCR team. This includes consultants, seconded staff, and volunteers.

22. Very long hours will often be necessary, but supervisors must ensure that staff have time off, away from the refugee site, and do not get so overtired that their efficiency and the professionalism of their approach suffers.

23. All field staff have a particular responsibility to safeguard their own health, but also have a role to play in ensuring that their colleagues remain in good mental and physical health (see chapter 22 on coping with stress). Early corrective action can avert the need to hospitalize or evacuate key staff.

24. In an emergency there may be many occasions when staff see clearly that by devoting time to helping individual refugees or families in distress they could alleviate suffering directly. To seek to do so is very understandable but it can lead to a personal emotional involvement at the expense of the staff member's wider responsibilities towards the refugees as a whole, and to resentment among other refugees. Direct responsibility for individual care is usually best assured by the refugee community. For all staff, compassion must be tempered by a professional approach. Guidance by supervisors is often needed on this point.

25. Particular attention must be paid to proper supervision and encouragement of newly recruited national staff. Often the Head of Office and other international staff are extremely busy, out at meetings or in the field, and the other staff, who may know little about UNHCR and less about the operation, lack guidance and a sense of involvement. Some of the general information in the emergency office kit may be useful for briefing newly recruited national staff. In all cases the new staff should receive a briefing from their direct supervisor covering, at a minimum, general information on the operation and the role of the new staff member.

Personnel Administration

26. UNDP may be able to help in determining conditions of service and even in identifying national field staff.

27. Careful attention must be paid to the administration of out-posted field staff. A convenient way of administering Field Officers, at least initially, is to ensure that the Travel Authorization (PT8) issued authorizing the mission to the country of operation also covers internal travel and DSA. If the latter is not covered, an addendum to the original PT8 is issued. Normally in emergency situations, and to avoid staff carrying too much cash, a DSA advance is given on a monthly basis. This advance is charged to the suspense account code as indicated on the UNHCR account codes listing (VF 324) and recorded on the reverse side of the original PT8. Upon completion of the mission, the office settling the travel claim, must ensure that the travel advances are deducted from the entitlements.

28. Particular care must also be taken to ensure the proper administration of out-posted national staff, for example, Field Officers' drivers. It should be noted here that while Heads of Office can authorize out-posted staff to drive official vehicles on official travel, as in an emergency this is likely to be necessary, every effort should be made to provide Field Officers' with drivers from the start. They can be of great help to Field Officers in a variety of ways.

29. All out-posted national staff must have contracts, understand their terms of employment and benefits, including the cost and benefits of the UN health insurance scheme, receive their salary regularly, work reasonable hours and take leave due.

All staff should have job descriptions and understand them.

Obvious as these requirements are, they can be difficult to meet in an emergency. There may be important extra demands on UNHCR drivers, both beyond simple driving and also as a result of their working for itinerant Field Officers and thus spending considerable time away from home. These factors must be taken into account.

Staff Visibility

30. A means for visual identification of UNHCR staff may be necessary, particularly outside the capital. Visibility materials, available from Headquarters, include flags, stickers (including magnetic stickers), vests, armbands, T-shirts and caps (see the Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources Appendix 1).

31. Consideration should also be given to adopting a UNHCR identity card with a visible photograph that can be worn as a pocket badge. Arrangements should be made as soon as possible for UNHCR staff to receive diplomatic identity cards issued by the government. Pending that, an official attestation in the local language could probably be quickly obtained for each out-posted Field Officer from UNHCR's government counterpart and might be very useful.

Staff Accommodation

32. At the start of an emergency, international staff will be on mission status and will generally be accommodated in hotels. Should the daily subsistence allowance (DSA) not cover the basic cost of adequate hotel accommodation, Headquarters should be informed at once and all hotel receipts retained. Conversely, DSA is reduced if official accommodation and/or meals are provided. If it is clear that special arrangements will be required for personal accommodation for staff who are assigned to that duty station, Headquarters should be informed, with details of local UN practice.

33. In extreme hardship areas, where there is no suitable staff or office accommodation, a standard staff and office accommodation package is available. This consists of prefabricated units which are stockpiled and which can be airlifted to the operation. Further information is provided in the Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources (Appendix 1).

34. Standard travel kits and field kits are also available from the emergency stockpile, and details of their contents are provided in the Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources (Appendix 1). The kits have been developed to provide staff with some basic personal items likely to be of use in the first days at such places, pending more appropriate local arrangements. The kits will normally only be issued to staff proceeding to isolated locations from or via Geneva, and when it is clear that there may not be time to obtain what is actually needed on arrival in the country of operation. If UNHCR is already represented in that country, the Field Office should have a good idea of conditions to be expected and thus of what specific personal equipment may be needed, and this is probably best purchased locally.

35. Responsibility for the provision of the necessary personal items rests with staff members. Even when issued with kits, staff should check carefully what other items may be required; it is unlikely that a standard kit will meet all needs. Staff receiving kits will be required to account for them at the end of their mission, and will be expected to at least return the non-consumable items.

36. In difficult conditions it may be necessary to hire a base camp manager who will be responsible for organizing living arrangements for UNHCR staff. A description of the tasks of a base camp manager is provided in the Checklist.