Emergency preparedness

(1)     At its October 2002 session (CEB/2002/5, paras. 30-35)) HLCM noted that planning for Y2K and the events of 11 September 2001 had brought to light a number of concerns relating to organizations' preparedness to meet emergencies and to put business back on track after catastrophic events. Questions related to the perception of risk, threat scenarios, definition of mission critical elements, immediate response capacity and longer-term recovery strategies had to be resolved for all organizations. HLCM reviewed an initial report prepared by UNICEF based on their experience in formulating a Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management Plan, which raised policy issues for the Committee's consideration in relation to emergency management, including the phases of preparedness, response and recovery. The report underlined the strategic management imperative that senior executives be appointed and empowered to respond to any form of risk, crisis or disaster. The report concluded with an invitation to HLCM to consider four recommendations, as follows:

     (a)     that the HLCM, on behalf of CEB, endorse the principle that all UN organizations should develop a Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management Plan;

     (b)     that the Secretary-General and Heads of Agencies, thereafter, should consider mandating the development of their organizational 'Plan' in the shortest possible time frame, and should ensure that necessary financial, human and logistic resources were made available for the process;

     (c)     that the HLCM consider seeking the creation of an Inter-Agency Task Force in collaboration with the UN Department of Management (Task Team), in order to develop a definitive Framework with standardized terminology and format. Further, that this Task Force act as a reference point for organizations, providing technical advice and guidance and ensuring that all 'Plans' were as far as possible capable of being integrated and executed concurrently; and

     (d)     that the subject remain on the HLCM agenda with progress reports being presented by organizations to the Committee at its' next session.

HLCM added a fifth recommendation: (e) that at all stages of the process, the highest priority had to be afforded to communication to staff in particular.

(2)     Following UNICEF's presentation a number of organizations provided extensive commentary on their experiences in this regard. HLCM welcomed the comprehensive and thought-provoking presentations and noted that this was a sharp wake up call for all organizations and had already prompted many to review the status of their risk assessment and contingency planning. HLCM endorsed the recommendations (subject to a reservation by FAO on para. (2)(c) above) with the following comments with regard to future action:

     (a)     common approaches needed to be developed at the global level and at each duty station;

     (b)     organizations would have to assess in detail the threats they faced including the risk of loss of key information;

     (c)     it was essential for organizations to work together to draw up a list of the collective assets of the organizations including aircraft, helicopters, global communications networks, field office support, etc., currently maintained by UN system organizations that could be drawn upon in the event of a disaster;

     (d)     organizations should determine exactly what were their mission critical activities and the means by which such activities could be continued in the event of a disaster resulting from any of the threats they had identified;

     (e)     within this framework, the responsibility of the host government, especially in assuming their costs for certain aspects of disaster preparedness, should also be assessed;

     (f)action plans had to be "living" mechanisms supported by regular review and testing and capable of being activated instantly;

     (g)     while contingency plans would contain an assessment of the minimum an organization would have to do to meet any threat, staff safety had always to remain a paramount consideration; it could not be subject to a "minimalist" approach; and

     (h)     experience showed that any structures created to meet disasters or crises should designate clearly the roles and responsibilities of a small team with a short chain of command who were empowered to take action and define how and where a command centre(s) would be established.

(3)     In HLCM's view, the goal of the next stage of the consideration of the matter should be to determine how, in the broadest sense, organizations could help each other in the event of any disaster. Most immediately the need was to determine collective assets. To this end each Organization would need to determine what were its own key assets. The provision of financial resources was as always a concern especially in an era of zero nominal growth budgets but as UNICEF stated in the report "if we are to ensure that we can maintain our ability to operate no matter what befalls us, then there is no real alternative but to invest for the future in this manner." There was also evidence that the tragic events of 11 September 2001 had sensitized governing bodies to the need for action to avoid threats and that financial support for this stand alone item was not always as difficult as might be anticipated. HLCM decided to review the matter regularly and invited its secretariat, with input from agencies who had advanced furthest in terms of emergency preparedness, including UNICEF, UNDP, UN and IMF, to prepare a report for its next session incorporating the substance of a policy framework within a "road map" of future HLCM policy direction, which would lead towards the development of a common action plan.

(4)     At its June 2003 session (CEB/2003/3, para. 26) HLCM, noting that Emergency Preparedeness and Business Continuity Planning (CEB/2003/HLCM/R.5)was a matter of work in progress, expressed appreciation for the information provided and congratulated those organizations that had taken action to develop emergency preparedness plans. It encouraged those who had not yet done so to move forward thereon and invited also those that had not yet done so to report to the secretariat on their common assets.

(5)     At its 6th Session (October 2003: CEB/2003/5, para. 14) HLCM, after being provided with an oral report on the development of the UN contingency planning and comprehensive emergency preparedness plan,

     (a)     welcomed the UN’s offer to share the template of its plan and to help other organizations with the development of their plans,

     (b)     noting that most plans should be location-specific, underlined the urgent need to ensure that risk assessments were carried out for headquarters as well as for field duty stations and

     (c)     decided to review, in 2004, the status of the development of organizations’ plans.

In this context, the Committee requested its secretariat to undertake a survey for presentation to the Committee at its eighth session.

(6)     At its 10th Session (October 2005: CEB/2005/5, paras. 30-34) HLCM reviewed WHO’s assessment of a pandemic risk with regard to the Avian Influenza. While the timing and degree of severity were still uncertain, the pandemic risk was considered to be great. At the time, alert phase 3 had been declared. Only 40 countries currently had a pandemic preparedness plan and WHO had issued guidelines and provided technical support to help countries develop national pandemic preparedness plans. In addition to preparedness plans, the stockpiling of antiviral medication and a global action plan to increase influenza vaccine production capacity in both developed and developing countries were of critical importance. A “United Nations Medical Services Staff Contingency Plan Guidelines for an Influenza Pandemic” had been prepared by the UN Medical Directors Group with technical input from WHO. The Plan set out measures and actions required of UN Medical Services, UN Resident Coordinators, UN Country Management Teams, Crisis Management Teams, UN Designated Officials, UN Security Management Teams, individual agencies and staff members. Measures were also needed for headquarters duty stations. A Task Force had been established by the Secretary-General, chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General, to monitor the situation and update the Guidelines as the situation evolved. With regard to the provision of antiviral and antibiotic medication and personal protective equipment, WHO emphasized that the guidelines made it clear that organizations should work with host countries’ health systems but should not rely on the host country for ensuring that measures were in place. In this regard, WHO’s contacts with the suppliers could be used by organizations (as had been done by the United Nations which had purchased 5,000 doses of Tamiflu) to obtain antiviral medication. The Committee expressed its strong support for the contingency plan and for the coordinating role of the Deputy Secretary-General and emphasized the importance of additional communication and coordination on the subject. It requested the Deputy Secretary-General to convene a video-conference with HLCM and the medical directors as soon as possible to discuss further the preparedness plans and measures.

(7) At the eleventh meeting of the HLCM (CEB/2006/3, paras.39-41), the HR Network briefed the Committee on guidelines for dealing with an influenza pandemic, which would feed into the UN System Planning and Preparedness Guidelines.  Work was being undertaken on the determination of critical staff.  The Committee thanked the HR Network and requested that it finalise the administrative guidelines that would serve as a framework applicable to all UN Staff.   

(8) The UN and New York Working Group had produced thorough guidelines for Avian flu pandemic planning (CEB/HLCM/2006/11).  Harmonisation on issues such as determination of critical staff, modalities of absence for non critical staff, compensatory time off for critical staff, annual, home and sick leave, and health and life insurance was considered important.  

(9) At its meeting in Vienna, March 2006 (CEB/2006/HLCM/12), the HR Network requested that the CEB develop generic guidelines after the New York model and requested those organisations that had reserved its position to convey it quickly to the CEB Secretariat.  

(10) At its eighteenth session (CEB/2009/6, para.22), the Committee endorsed the formation of a Rapid Response Team to support country offices in the event of a crisis.
During its eighteenth session (CEB/2009/6, paras.83-84), HLCM requested the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) to open a dialogue on UNHAS in the context of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), and to revert back to the Committee at a later date. The Committee also requested UNHAS to consider the roles and responsibilities of ICAO with respect to UNHAS, with particular attention to international Aviation Standards (AVSTADS).

(11) During the HR Network’s videoconference in October (CEB/2009/HLCM/HR/48, para.4), the CEB Secretariat agreed to develop the Action Plan on Rapid Response Administration Personnel as part of Immediate Crisis Response, in consultation with WFP and UNICEF by the end of 2009.

(12) At the HR Network’s nineteenth session (CEB/2010/HLCM/HR/18, paras.71-74), the CEB secretariat prepared a proposal on the implementation aspects of a “Rapid Response Personnel” mechanism as a follow up to the document submitted to HLCM in September 2009. The ASG, OHRM proposed that the UN, the CEB Secretariat and the Field Group worked on the details of linking the Rapid response Personnel to the proposed Support Unit.
The Network agreed with the proposal made by the ASG, OHRM.

(13) At its nineteenth session (CEB/2010/3, paras.32-39), the Committee requested UN/DFS and UN/DM, with the participation of all organizations/departments that may be interested in contributing their experiences, to prepare a report on ‘Lessons Learned on the UN system’s immediate response mechanisms in support of staff and their families’ for consideration and discussion at the HLCM fall 2010 session.

(14) At its twentieth session (CEB/2010/HLCM/HR/35, paras.84-85), the HR Network agreed to focus on sharing practices between organisations so that RRT (Rapid Response Team) members would be informed about processes in all agencies; Further agreed to present a briefing note focusing on achievements to date to HLCM’s Fall 2010 session.

(15) At the Committee’s twentieth session (CEB/2010/5, paras.131-134), the Under Secretary General for Management presented a briefing on the study undertaken by the Department of Management (DM) on lessons learned from the Haiti crisis response. She highlighted six issues related to the support to staff and their families in emergency situations.  These included:
    1) Capacity building,
    2) Accounting of staff,
    3) Medical response,
    4) Family focal points,
    5) Peer support programme and
    6) United Nations Memorial and Recognition Fund.
The Committee requested that the UN’s new Emergency Support Team and the HR Network Rapid Response Team, once established, should leverage each other’s capacities and avoid a duplication of efforts.  

(16) At its 21th session in Paris (CEB/2011/3, paras. 130-133), HLCM acknowledged with appreciation the work undertaken by the Medical Directors as a significant step towards an improved UN capacity to prepare for, respond to, and follow up after medical emergencies and mass casualty events.

(17) At its twenty second session (CEB/2011/5, paras.30-47), the Committee:

•    Expressed appreciation to the United Nations Medical Emergency Response Team (UNMERT) for its prompt and effective action.
•    Requested the Finance and Budget Network to examine available or new funding options for emergency needs.

  • Human Resources Network (HRN)