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Emergency Preparedness

Last updated: 19 Apr 2023


'Preparedness' is defined as: "the knowledge and capacities to effectively anticipate, respond to and recover from the impacts of likely, imminent, or current disasters." This definition resonates with the Migration Crisis Operational Framework (MCOF)'s formulation of IOM's role before, during, and after a crisis.

'Emergency preparedness' (EP) or 'preparedness for emergency response' considers a shorter timeframe and has a narrower focus on increasing the capability and readiness to respond to an emergency. In other words, EP is not much about the longer-term perspective of preparedness ('anticipate' and 'recover' phases), but it rather focuses on improving the speed, volume, and quality of the emergency response.

This distinction is not clearly cut in practice. It is almost always the same persons as IOM focal points at the country level for DRR, EP, and/or emergency response. Furthermore, disaster and crisis often have a cyclical repetition of emergency and transition phases rather than a linear timeline (see figure below).

Overall, the aim of emergency preparedness is to act ahead of potential crises to improve the speed, volume, and quality of the emergency response.

Figure 1 - Different Phases of an Emergency (Theory and Practice)

Key Considerations

IOM's Guidance Note on Preparedness with Emergency Response is aligned with the inter-agency one and is based on three main steps.

Step 1 – Risk Analysis & Monitoring

The risk analysis process identifies the hazards or events that could trigger an emergency. Hazards can then be ranked by calculating their Risk Seriousness based on potential impact and likelihood (see details around impact and likelihood scale in Annex 1).

  • Different types of hazards and events
    • Slow onsets (e.g. drought) vs. sudden (e.g. earthquake)
    • Natural hazards vs. technological Armed conflicts, civil unrests
    • Socio-economic degradation
    • Epidemics
  • Different timeframes/outlook periods
    • Seasonal/recurring (e.g. seasonal floods)
    • Evolving (e.g. armed conflicts, epidemics)
    • Static (e.g. earthquake)
  • Importance of risk monitoring
    • Identified risks
    • Emerging risks

Step 2 – Minimum Preparedness

  • The Minimum Preparedness Actions (MPAs) aim at a minimum level of emergency preparedness to increase IOM's capacity to respond to any risk.
  • These actions are not risk or scenario-specific and usually do not require significant additional resources to be implemented.
  • The MPAs focus only on some key functional areas with checklists of approx. 5 actions per area (see Annex 2 for light guidance).

Step 3 –Contingency Planning

What is Contingency Planning?

"Contingency planning (CP) is a management process that analyses disaster risks and establishes arrangements in advance to enable timely, effective, and appropriate responses" (IFRC). The contingency planning process can largely be broken down into three simple questions:

1. What is going to happen?

2. What are we going to do about it?

3. What can we do ahead of time to get prepared?

You can find more information and details in the IOM Guidance Note around the following questions:

- When to develop a contingency plan?

- Contingency plan for which scenarios?

- One or multiple contingency plans?

- Linkages between an IOM contingency plan and inter-agency ones?

See Annex 3 (IOM contingency plan template) for a series of key questions and guidance for country teams while developing a contingency plan and identifying any preparedness gaps.


Given IOM's vast engagement with communities and governments, as well as participation and contribution to inter-agency processes, IOM's guidance on emergency preparedness is aligned with the IASC Emergency Response Preparedness (ERP) guidance module. This inter-agency tool is the basis for a common understanding of emergency preparedness among UN actors and partners.

Who are the stakeholders in emergency preparedness?

The government is the primary entity and duty bearer responsible for emergency preparedness and response. The UN and other international and local partners seek to support government efforts in responding to an emergency. When the government requires external support, the UN/NGOs' interventions to "prepare and respond" should be coordinated through existing mechanisms in the country, notably through the sector/cluster system.

It is worth noting that any inter-agency or agency-specific preparedness plan should seek to align with national plans and priorities. Thus, discussions with the government and communities, both at country office and inter-agency levels, need to be made at an early stage, as joint planning, programming, and monitoring is vital to achieving a cohesive and well-coordinated response.

Common approach for emergency preparedness in the UN System

The IASC ERP approach is central to establishing common understanding of emergency preparedness among UN Agencies and partners. Most UN agencies use this methodology or a slightly adapted version tailored to agency-specific mandates. IOM's guidance note builds on this same approach with more specific context to IOM's mandate in addressing and responding to migration crisis.

Figure 2 - Linkages between preparedness plans


For technical guidance, please contact the relevant DOE RTS at the Regional Office or the Preparedness & Response Division at Headquarters: prdcore@iom.int.

Key Points

  • Emergency preparedness (or preparedness for emergency response) focuses on improving the speed, volume, and quality of the emergency response. It is part of the broader "preparedness" that considers more globally how to anticipate, respond to, and recover from an emergency (see Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Transition for information on other types of preparedness).
  • Emergency preparedness should be done in coordination with communities, authorities, inter-agency partners, and NGOs. Only a coordinated preparation can deliver a timely and adequate emergency response.
  • Emergency preparedness helps ensure an efficient use of limited resources and secure development gains.
  • IOM's approach to emergency preparedness is aligned with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC)'s approach, based on three steps: 1) risk analysis and monitoring, 2) minimum preparedness actions (not risk specific), and 3) contingency planning.

References and Tools