Emergency needs assessment

The first step in any emergency response is to assess the extent and impact of the damage caused by the disaster (the needs) and the capacity of the affected population to meet its immediate survival needs (degree of vulnerability).

Although the impact may vary considerably from one disaster to another, typical needs that arise include:

  • food;
  • shelter;
  • essential items, such as blankets, heaters, water containers;
  • medical care;
  • safe drinking water;
  • sanitation and waste disposal;
  • psychosocial support.

Such an assessment will identify the needs that require external intervention and the gaps to be filled. It is a vital component of the programme-planning process. It provides the information on which key decisions affecting the lives of the disaster victims will be made.

Assessments can take the following forms:

  • Rapid assessment: Undertaken immediately after a disaster, rapid assessment provides information on needs, possible courses of action and resource requirements. It normally takes up to a week.
  • Detailed assessment: A more detailed assessment is carried out after a rapid assessment, if the situation is changing and more information is needed. It takes about one month, depending on the size of the area and the complexity of the situation.
  • Continual assessment: Disaster situations can evolve rapidly and include unexpected knock-on effects, such as population movements. Assessment should therefore be an ongoing process throughout the emergency phase. Once the Red Cross Red Crescent is operational in a disaster zone, information is continually updated so that relief and programming can be adapted to evolving needs.

Experience shows that a poorly conducted assessment is likely to lead to poor planning decisions and an inadequate response. This often has consequences beyond the emergency phase and can affect recovery efforts too. One issue has been the need to standardize the way in which different components of the Movement carry out emergency assessments. The International Federation has produced standard guidelines for assessing emergency situations, so that basic data can be collected and processed in a way that it can be compared by different members of the Movement.

Find out more

Documents available: