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Emergency Services Branch

The Emergency Services Branch (ESB) is responsible for developing, mobilising and coordinating the deployment of OCHA’s international rapid response capacities to provide assistance to countries affected by natural disasters and other emergencies. In 2005, ESB managed three sections, which are presented as projects: the Field Coordination Support Section (FCSS); the Military, Civil Defence and Logistics Support Project, consisting of the Military and Civil Defence Unit (MDCU) and the Logistics Support Unit (LSU); and the Environmental Emergencies Section (EES).

In 2005, the need for further development of OCHA’s logistical capacity gare rise to the Logistics Support Unit (LSU) becoming an independent project within the branch. Its strengthening with additional resources is foreseen for 2006. MCDU, for its part, was renamed the Civil Military Coordination Section (CMCS) to better reflect its functions. ESB also continued to oversee three units dealing with information management and technology.

Key objectives

  • Strengthen existing partnerships and develop new networks in the area of disaster response and response preparedness within a broader effort to improve the quality, timeliness, efficiency and integration of different disaster response services
  • Contribute to the advancement of a holistic and systematic approach to disaster response and response preparedness by promoting cooperation among internal and external response tools and services
  • Increase awareness of response tools and mechanisms among partners


The main thrust of ESB’s activities is reflected in the narratives of its four projects (FCSS, CMCS, LSU and EES) in the following pages. In addition to managing these, the branch was active in the wider area of disaster response preparedness. One of these activities, the IASC WG Task Force on Natural Disasters (TFND), concluded its work in 2005. Another, the Humanitarian Common Services process, conducted jointly with WFP, saw further developments of this concept.

The key functions of the branch included the timely dispatch of well-trained and equipped UNDAC teams, civil-military expertise and assets, and environmental emergency experts. In addition, ESB was responsible for the coordination of international urban search and rescue activities, managing standby arrangements with partners, providing staff and support modules to field operations, as well as monitoring the international logistics situation during major disasters. The branch continued to manage and replenish OCHA stocks of relief items, and to organise shipments from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) in Brindisi, Italy.

The operations and effectiveness of the different projects managed by the branch are detailed later in this section.

Performance evaluation

The timeliness of deployments remained at a target of 24/48 hours from receipt of request for the UNDAC teams. Extensive,multiple and rotating deployments of UNDAC teams, UN Civil-Military Coordination (UNCMCoord) officers, as well as environmental expertise, occurred following the Indian Ocean tsunami and the South Asia earthquake. The effectiveness of the experts deployed was addressed by training increasing numbers of disaster managers worldwide in emergency response and field coordination procedures. There were 72 graduates of six UNDAC courses in 2005, as well as 437 graduates of 16 UNCMCoord courses.

Partners increasingly applied common methodologies, such as environmental guidelines and INSARAG guidelines (that benefited from a major revision in 2005), the “Oslo” and “MCDA” Guidelines on the use of military and civil defence assets, and the guidelines for the use and logistics of family tents, published in November 2004. Procurement, replenishment of stocks and dispatch of emergency goods resulted in timely shipments from the UNHRD to both natural disasters and complex emergencies.

Strengthened partnerships with donors resulted in the provision of a Swiss aeroplane for the rapid deployment of UNDAC teams to earthquakes, tested in Pakistan. Engagement with developing countries grew to the extent that they now comprise 47 percent of the membership of the UNDAC team worldwide. The INSARAG network continues to grow and now comprises 64 member countries, 40 of which have 62 international search and rescue teams between them.

Eight new stakeholders were engaged through a range of collaborative approaches, such as the Environmental Emergencies Partnership. NGOs such as Map Action and Telecoms Sans Frontieres became valuable new partners during training activities and field deployments, particularly in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami and the South Asia earthquake. Efforts at enhanced civil military coordination at the national and regional level gained momentum, especially in the Asia and Pacific region and in Africa.

Awareness of the available response tools and mechanisms continued to be improved through the development of new approaches. The “IASC In-Country Team Self-Assessment Tool for Natural Disaster Response Preparedness” developed the IASC WG Task Force on Natural Disasters under ESB’s co-leadership, and disseminated widely to in-country teams and OCHA regional offices, served as a step towards holistic, systematic and integrated approaches to disaster response preparedness.


ESB advocacy for stronger inter-agency cooperation in the area of disaster response tools and services benefited from a wide acceptance of the Humanitarian Common Services (HCS) concept, to which CMCoord belongs. Further development of the HCS concept was delayed by the number of large scale disasters in 2005.






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