Background

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 must be resolved for all organizations.  UNICEF had prepared an initial report on the matter, based on their experience in formulating a Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management Plan, raising policy issues for the Committee’s consideration in relation to emergency management, including the phases of preparedness, response and recovery.

The document underlined the strategic management imperative that senior executives be appointed and empowered to respond to any form of risk, crisis or disaster.

It concluded with an invitation to HLCM to consider four recommendations, as follows:

Recommendation 1.  That the HLCM, on behalf of CEB, endorse the principle that all UN organizations should develop a Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management Plan.

Recommendation 2.  That the Secretary-General and Heads of Agencies, thereafter, should consider mandating the development of their organizational 'Plan' in the shortest possible timeframe, and should ensure that necessary financial, human and logistic resources are made available for the process.

Recommendation 3.  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' are as far as possible capable of being integrated and executed concurrently.

Recommendation 4.  That the subject remain on the HLCM agenda with progress reports being presented by organizations to the Committee at its' next session.

Discussion

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.

Action

HLCM endorsed the recommendations  with the following comments with regard to future action: 

  • common approaches needed to be developed at the global level and at each duty station
  • organizations would have to assess in detail the threats they faced including the risk of loss of key information;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • within this framework, the responsibility of the host government, especially in assuming their costs for certain aspects or disaster preparedness, should also be assessed;
  • action plans had to be “living” mechanisms supported by regular review and testing and capable of being activated instantly;
  • 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;
  • experience showed that any structures created to meet disasters or crises should:
  1. designate clearly the roles and responsibilities of a small team with a short chain of command who were empowered to take action (this was not the time for a Committee!)
  2. define how and where a command center(s) would be established;
  • 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.  UNICEF itself had reflected on this matter in the document as follows:

“It is appreciated that this process will involve cost but 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 and as outlined above.”

  • 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. (The UN reflected that the costs of assuring continuity were often not as extensive as might be assumed.
  • at all stages of the process, the highest priority had to be afforded to communication to staff in particular and that attention to this matter should become a fifth recommendation

Clearly this was a matter which HLCM should review regularly.  Whilst not necessarily establishing a task force on the issue, HLCM foresaw the need for a networking mechanism by which information, for example, on global assets could be gathered and maintained.  It therefore 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.