Objective 3.2 – Surge and Staffing Solutions

The Haiti earthquake in January and the Pakistan floods in July tested OCHA’s ability to rapidly deploy qualified personnel on an unprecedented scale. The organization’s response to these and other crises demonstrated the tremendous value of recent efforts to develop effective surge and staffing solutions for emergencies (see related case study).

In the first two months following the Haiti earthquake, OCHA deployed 87 emergency personnel, averaging less than five days from request to presence on the ground. OCHA has also improved the speed of filling vacancies. From vacancy announcement to final selection, OCHA significantly reduced the average recruitment time for longer-term field positions from 140 days in 2008 to less than 75 days in 2010. OCHA’s workforce is managed more proficiently, lowering the field vacancy rate from 15 to 10 per cent over the course of 2010.

OCHA will continue to utilize its field roster to fill an annual average of 150 professional field vacancies. The roster has been operational since mid-2010. It includes over 600 humanitarian affairs, information management, public information, administrative and finance officers. To continue to expedite recruitment, a priority list of external candidates will be identified for pre-clearance. Incorporating lessons from the 2009 pilot roster, OCHA will replenish the roster through targeted outreach to suitable candidates available for hardship locations. In addition, a candidate skill-set database will be developed to assist with internal management of the roster.

In 2011, OCHA will improve the transition of staff from surge to longer-term staff. It will alleviate gaps in existing operations through mechanisms such as the newly introduced Associates Surge Pool. OCHA will focus on pre-deployment preparedness and post-mission care to enhance surge management and its effectiveness. Another priority will be maintaining the flexibility of surge solutions irrespective of financial constraints, ensuring that a leaner OCHA can continue to scale up and reduce operations as required.

Staffing and surge solutions will be bolstered by integrating workforce planning, rotation and performance management. By carefully managing relocations , OCHA will improve competency and performance, while mitigating the foreseen negative impact of necessary staff movement.

With the completion of a 2010 external review of OCHA’s administrative functions, the organization will strengthen its senior administrative capacity to further improve services to the field, and to tighten overall OCHA performance and accountability.

View Key Outputs and Indicators (PDF, 72kb)

Training OCHA’s First Responders with FIRST

A cold, remote lake town in northern Sweden is about as far from the epicentre of most humanitarian crises as one can imagine. But that is exactly where many OCHA staff will go in 2011 to attend a new training programme that aims to strengthen their emergency-response skills.

The Field Response Surge Training Course (FIRST) focuses on building coordination skills at the onset of an acute crisis. Emergency responders from headquarters, country and regional offices converged upon Kristinehamn, Sweden, from 28 November to 4 December 2010 for the inaugural FIRST. The venue, donated by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency – a long-time OCHA partner – provides space well suited to simulations.

Following experiences of ramping up response efforts in Haiti, Pakistan and Yemen, members of the OCHA Emergency Services Branch (ESB) in Geneva went back to the drawing board to develop the course.

“We realized we needed to do something to better prepare OCHA staff for these environments,” said Paul Handley, a Humanitarian Affairs Officer with the Surge Capacity Section in ESB. “It’s really meant to be about what happens when you go into a new emergency and you must not only coordinate, but also set up or expand the office and get what you need from headquarters in those first couple of days.”

FIRST is expected to train the majority of participants on OCHA’s Emergency Response Roster (ERR). The roster, compiled twice a year, comprises OCHA staff members who volunteer to be deployable over a six-month period. Once deployed, they can be on mission from six weeks to three months. FIRST training will be offered to each new roster rotation.

Since the first ERR deployment in January 2008, more than 200 full-time OCHA staff have joined the roster. Each roster consists of around 30 members with varying backgrounds and skill sets, including humanitarian affairs officers, information management officers and public information officers. To date, 118 OCHA staff have deployed to reinforce OCHA responses across the globe (see map).

To help devise FIRST, OCHA looked to contractor John Telford, the facilitator of UNHCR’s successful Workshops for Emergency Managers. FIRST achieves its effectiveness through practical emphasis on issues, case studies and scenarios from actual deployments. Mr. Telford explained that the programme is unique due to its “focus on the roster members and their potential functions and deployment scenarios.”

Organizers expect the results will help OCHA meet the challenges of new disasters in 2011 with a strong, flexible and experienced ERR that is ready to coordinate humanitarian response from the responders’ first moments on the ground.