General findings

This section presents general findings generated from the questions posed to respondents. A number of questions have been collapsed to avoid duplication and enhance clarity. Where questions have been collapsed this is so noted. Furthermore, recommendations have been consolidated and appear at the end of the general findings section.

What were the disaster/emergency preparedness mechanisms in place prior to the onset of the disasters?

A number of respondents suggested that the starting point for an informed response to this question required a shared understanding of what was meant by ‘preparedness’. From an operational standpoint, this might include warehousing and logistical arrangements, pre-positioning of stock in high-risk zones for shared usage or other similar mechanisms. However, thinking more strategically, preparedness also goes to the heart of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and disaster management and the strategies utilised to support, for example, community resiliency or government mitigation and preparedness measures.

In terms of practical considerations, there was general agreement that few formalised preparedness mechanisms to improve multi-agency/inter-agency capability and capacity to respond to disasters exist. With that said, a number of mechanisms were identified and others were highlighted as holding potential to significantly improve preparedness. Highlighted were the following: the role of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the clusters5 in supporting preparedness activities, particularly in the Pacific; trainings and simulations; disaster risk reduction; stakeholder relations with national disaster management offices (NDMOs), the Australian Government and the HRG.

The Role of OCHA and the Cluster System. There was general consensus that the fundamentals for preparedness, at least for the Pacific, are in place. While acknowledging that the cluster system is still evolving, as is the regional cluster coordination model, respondents felt that the cluster approach is a positive means of linking UN agencies, international organisations such as the Red Cross, and NGOs, not only in disaster response, but in relation to disaster preparedness, developing understanding of key thematic issues in the region and raising stakeholder awareness of regional resources and capacities for disaster response. Contingency planning and training that has been undertaken via the clusters was also highlighted. Overall, respondents felt that OCHA in the Pacific is becoming a catalysing force in relation to disaster preparedness and strategic planning for disaster response.

Training and Simulations. Many respondents highlighted training and simulations in disaster preparedness that have been undertaken in the past, including those internal to organisations and/or confederation partners, RedR trainings, in-country trainings with partner agencies or sporadic inter-agency training programs and trainings with NDMOs. Some noted the importance of global networks in relation to pre-disaster coordination, such as the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network6. However, notable as well were the comments that even with these activities, trainings and simulations were in large part not streamlined or consistent. Instead, opportunities to engage in training and simulations were largely ad hoc (e.g. training opportunities/ simulations with NGOs and ADF; NGOs and whole-of-government), informal or reactive. Some suggested that while robust preparedness plans and activities existed as part of their agency relationship to an alliance or confederation, the challenge became how to capitalise on these trainings and mechanisms more broadly and transfer best practices learned through these in-house activities to the larger external stakeholder base within Australia.

Disaster Risk Reduction. A number of respondents noted that disaster risk reduction is a relatively new area for engagement and is still evolving as an area of focus. Others noted DRR activities that are nominally integrated into their AusAID-funded programs through the Periodic Funding Agreement7 (PFA) process. However, agencies added that while AusAID has a DRR policy, this policy is not yet fully integrated into its funding agreements and policies, and nor were agencies aware of any funding earmarked for DRR. At the same time, several respondents expressed optimism that the new Humanitarian Partnership Agreement (HPA) would address these issues.

Additionally, agencies highlighted their DRR programs currently in place that are closely partnered with NDMOs to not only build national capacity but to improve collective capacity for disaster mitigation, planning and response. In general, this area was consistently viewed as one of critical importance in relation to individual agency portfolios—particularly in higher risk areas—as well as in relation to inter-agency and multi-agency coordination and cooperation.

National Disaster Management Offices. Respondents noted the increasingly important role of NDMOs in disaster preparedness and response. For some NGOs, in-country offices are part of the national disaster management infrastructure where the agencies have statutory roles to play in the event of a disaster or in relation to preparedness. Respondents highlighted that disaster risk reduction activities, including those relating to planning and preparedness, cannot be done in isolation from NDMOs, where they exist.

Australian Government. Agency comments in relation to existing preparedness mechanisms also focused on logistics, highlighting the AusAID funded Brisbane warehouse with emergency resources available for use by a number of ANGOs (Oxfam, World Vision) and the Australian Red Cross. The 2007 study commissioned by ACFID and AusAID to look at the issue of supply chain management8 had recommended the need for pre-positioning of relief items further down the supply chain and closer to areas of demand. While some agencies had placed emergency stocks in countries considered high risk, a number of respondents noted that there had been limited uptake on the general findings of the report, besides the establishment of the Brisbane warehouse.

The Humanitarian Reference Group. Also raised was the point that the HRG is in part a preparedness mechanism in that it forges relationships amongst the ANGOs and encourages cross-fertilisation of ideas. Further, it holds potential to transform these associational relationships into active and operational partnerships.

At the onset of disaster, what planning and coordination mechanisms existed?9

All respondents made mention of the ACFID HRG teleconferences as a primary NGO coordination mechanism in Australia. At the request of any HRG member, a teleconference can be convened in response to an emergency. Teleconferences are open to HRG and non-HRG agencies that are responding and are also attended by AusAID, as well as by regional counterparts such as NZCID10 upon request and need. In principle, the teleconferences are a mechanism to facilitate a coordinated emergency response. In practice, the intent of these teleconferences was identified as ranging from information sharing on agency capacities, on-the-ground needs and supply side management to discussion of funding issues and opportunities for joint messaging. Respondents also noted that the teleconferences provide the main conduit for contact with AusAID and through AusAID to the whole-of-government response.

The HRG capacity matrix was another coordination mechanism identified. The capacity matrix was developed during the response to the disasters in September and October 2009 as a means to share information about agency resources in the field without overwhelming agency staff with information. The matrix captured the geographic and sectoral focus of agency efforts as well as a brief outline of their staffing and resources deployments. However, many respondents felt the matrix was too labour intensive to maintain and update, and that further work was needed to ensure only relevant information was included. During the response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the capacity matrix was redesigned to form part of consolidated situation reports produced by ACFID using input from the HRG. These consolidated situation reports were then distributed to the agencies and AusAID. Respondents noted that the consolidated situation reports were a positive initiative, allowing agencies to share information about issues such as security, logistics and advocacy.

Respondents also noted that they participate in a number of important coordination fora outside of Australia, including the Pacific Humanitarian Forum, UN OCHA and the cluster system, in-country NDMO coordination meetings, as well as their individual international confederation and alliance coordination mechanisms. Depending on the affected country or region, agencies may also coordinate with certain groups rather than others because of their longstanding presence and prior relationships with agencies in a country. There are also pre-existing arrangements with confederated partners for joint response or complementarity of response in the event of a disaster. Because of these multiple NGO coordination mechanisms, Australia-based coordination mechanisms often become of secondary importance.

Coordination mechanisms around funding were also identified. Agencies highlighted the PFA and its successor, the still draft HPA, as mechanisms that in principle help coordinate funding in an emergency response. However, these statements were qualified by noting that issues around timelines for release of funds, the identification of non-PFA partners for inclusion in funding streams for emergency response and the competitive tender design, and therefore internal competitiveness amongst NGOs, made the mechanism less than efficient as a coordination tool.

Outside the AusAID funding process, the HRG emergency teleconferences were highlighted as a forum to discuss funding issues in relation to individual agency appeals, confederated appeals, UN appeals and Australian Government pledges/commitments. Outside of the teleconferences, the appeals generated by the UN, individual agencies or confederations at the onset of emergencies (or, with some organisations, a pre-appeal process that allows for a rapid response fund) were also highlighted.

What were the multi-agency coordination challenges?

As one respondent noted, “Challenges really depend on the requirements of the response which in part depends on the scale of the disaster and the degree to which Australia is a/the major responder”. The challenges identified ranged from the impact of funding on inter-agency (NGO) cooperation to the NGO—whole-of-government relationship, the increasingly important role of confederations over individual or collective ANGO response, finding the balance between response and preparedness, secondment of staff to other agencies, and issues surrounding ANGO sectoral identity.

NGO-to-NGO Relations

Respondents were in general agreement that competition for funding for emergency response had a direct negative impact on NGO-to-NGO relations. With competitive grant processes, the imperative to coordinate and/or to share information can become severely tested. As one respondent noted, “Coordination is often minimised amongst NGOs because we are competing for the same pool of funds (AusAID)”. Picking up on this theme, another respondent asked the question, “We are all seeking money from AusAID. The question becomes, how do we maintain transparency with one another?”.

Essentially, the issue for ANGOs becomes one of sharing information to support a more robust collaborative response versus withholding certain information in order to maintain a competitive advantage in funding proposals.

Challenges of the NGO environment also focused on a series of questions:

  • With the elevation in importance of confederations and alliances in disaster response comes the question of how do ANGOs assume significant added value within their own international networks? Furthermore, how do ANGOs find added value in coordinating amongst themselves in Australia in disaster preparedness and response? As some agencies noted, although ANGOs may have similarities, they may also have different funding mechanisms and structures which will place limits on their interactions with one another. The challenge thus becomes how to maximise synergies, cooperation and coordination while recognising these limitations.
  • ANGOs are increasingly finding themselves seconding personnel to other NGOs or UN agencies for disaster response. While this is an encouraging trend and one that recognises organisational synergies and complementarities, there is also a need to be more proactive in relation to practical issues such as mutually agreed to TORs, staff safety and security and media messaging.
  • ANGOs have differing capacities—both in terms of human and financial resources—in relation to disaster response. Given this, and recognising that individual ANGOs, whether small or large, niche or more generalist, all have a role to play, the question becomes how to bring together this diverse community to identify NGO synergies that can be maximised in disaster response?
  • While there may be significant interest in joint planning and identification of complementarities in programming that can be pursued, there is also the challenge of weighing these opportunities and interests against organisational ‘demands’ for labelling and branding. This in part goes to the issue of how the sector moves more towards a mindset of complementary action, capitalising on individual organisational strengths and core capacities. There is inherent tension between the longterm shift towards cooperative and coordinated response and the short-term needs of agencies to demonstrate their individual worth and impact to their constituencies.

NGO-Australian Government Relationship

A number of respondents raised the question of how to maximise the NGO-Government relationship in times of emergency response. Responses in this regard focused on a number of challenges:

  • AusAID decision-making around emergency funding. Comments centred on how priorities are determined and how decisions are made regarding allocation of funding to different recipients including multilaterals, UN agencies, IOs and NGOs. Respondents noted that while in an emergency response as much as 80 per cent of that response is physically undertaken by NGOs, in fact a majority of emergency funding is channelled primarily through multilaterals, UN agencies and IOs.
  • Relationship between AusAID desk and AusAID post. Some respondents lacked clarity on the management streams and decision-making processes and relationships that existed between AusAID desks and posts, including over the issue of who is in charge in the event of an emergency response. NGO comments in relation to AusAID post and desk funding decisions—particularly in relation to how decisions are made and who receives funding (and on what basis)—suggest a perception problem regarding ‘how AusAID does its business’ that needs to be addressed.
  • Artificial separation of activities. As a sector or within whole-of-government, there is the challenge of how to change mindsets around proactive planning for disaster management versus reactive response to disasters. As noted, the Asia-Pacific region is prone to natural and environmental disasters. Disasters often happen on a monthly basis yet key stakeholders are far more adept at response than preparation. The challenge that many respondents raised was how to collectively place greater emphasis on DRR rather than on response. Currently, there is no real forum to have these discussions. Further, there are no real fora to discuss effective ways of linking the spectrum of aid activities together whether DRR, emergency response, recovery or longer-term development.
  • Prioritisation and visibility. Communication about disasters tends to depend on nature and scale. The more ‘spectacular’ the disaster, the more information is shared. This leads to the issue of prioritisation by the Australian Government/AusAID on what constitutes an emergency in the first instance. Respondents noted the challenge of what appeared to be at times ‘media driven’ emergencies that took precedence over chronic/protracted emergencies (e.g. Niger). Protracted crises tend to receive attention only once they have moved beyond a critical threshold of human and material loss. This is a challenge not only for aid agencies in Australia, but more generally as well. Chronic and protracted crises, although taking a huge toll, do not receive the same level of visibility, prioritisation and attention as the acute disasters that are more visually engaging, more likely to find themselves in the public domain, are taken on board at the highest political levels and mobilise significant public and government resources. The challenges become two-fold, first to reassess the way in which chronic crises are prioritised and second to better integrate chronic disasters into the DRR framework.
  • NGOs reflected on the lack of a civilian face to publicity and communications emanating from the Australian Government on disaster response. Notably, the civilian face of response tends to be subsumed by the Australian military face. Agencies expressed concern that this gives distorted images of the whole-of-government/‘whole-of-community’ response to disasters.

What worked well in relation to multi-agency coordination?

Almost all respondents indicated that ACFID HRG teleconferences are primarily an information sharing mechanism, and that they can function effectively in this capacity to assist agencies triangulate information coming from in-country sources and provide information about other responding agencies. Respondents also noted the positive aspects of the HRG’s flexible terms of reference which facilitate the engagement of a wide range of non-HRG agencies and relevant ACFID working groups during the emergency teleconferences. Non-HRG agencies that attended the calls were very positive about the opportunity to raise awareness about their work and establish contact with AusAID. Moreover, non-HRG agencies noted that it was a useful mechanism to learn about staff deployment from other agencies and to identify opportunities for the provision of specialist technical support.

Most respondents indicated that the HRG capacity matrix and consolidated situation reports were designed to share important information without overburdening staff. It was felt that they did add value and were an improvement on simply sharing agency situation reports. Additionally, respondents noted that messaging in relation to gifts in kind, though challenging, time and labour intensive, demonstrated that collective action by the HRG was possible and laid the foundation for future such efforts.

Respondents also highlighted the potential role of the HRG in establishing and strengthening inter-agency relationships to improve in-country response. For example, during the response one agency seconded a Child Protection in Emergencies Specialist to another Australian NGO in Samoa for a week, and then to UNICEF for a further period. This was seen as a very positive example of cooperation between agencies and it was based on a strong pre-existing relationship between staff from the two agencies.

A number of respondents focused not only on the positive aspects of the HRG and its coordination at times of emergencies, but also on its potential role as a coordination body for NGOs more broadly. Comments ranged from the role the HRG played in encouraging and forging relationships amongst its members, its success in rolling out initiatives impacting on the sector such as the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP)11 and Sphere12, and its increasingly important role in raising higher level issues with AusAID.

What did not work well in relation to multi-agency coordination?

Respondents noted that almost all coordination between agencies happens in the field, and that there is less scope for on-the-ground coordination from Australia, particularly as individual agencies increasingly respond as part of an international confederation. The confederated nature of agencies means that depending on the location and nature of the event, the ANGO may be the lead agency, it may be the supporting agency or conversely it may be providing funds in support of the larger confederation’s response. As such, depending on the role of agencies within their confederation’s response, Australian based staff are not necessarily in a position to coordinate with other ANGOs as they are unable to make decisions on behalf of their confederation.

Several respondents noted that increasing investment in field-level coordination mechanisms done from Australia can actually be a distraction and take time away from coordination on the ground. Even when Australian agencies are leading the response on behalf of their confederation, the multiplicity of international funding sources brings increasing levels of donor demands which can further complicate coordination. For example, Australian agencies may submit complementary funding proposals to AusAID with the aim that one agency be the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) focal point. If another agency’s confederation receives funding from a different donor for WASH activities, then the agencies may no longer be able to ensure complementarity of their responses. However, as some agencies noted, if there is any exception to this it is in relation to disaster response in the Pacific where coordination may be more achievable because a number of ANGOs have a comparative advantage to be lead responders.

Some agencies highlighted that coordination within Australia may be limited when AusAID is participating because agencies still compete for the same pool of AusAID funds. While the new AusAID HPA is seen by many as a positive step towards cooperation, it still remains a competitive funding agreement. Several respondents suggested that AusAID needs to appreciate that there is an inherent contradiction between increasingly asking agencies to cooperate while at the same time maintaining a competitive funding system.

However, other agencies were more self-reflective, arguing the need for the HRG, and NGOs more broadly, to take responsibility for greater cooperation and partnership between agencies, and not to rely on AusAID or other external actors to drive coordination.

There was a strong consensus that the weakness of coordination and cooperation between agencies in terms of disaster preparedness, and more broadly DRR as well as disaster risk management (DRM), was one of the fundamental issues facing the sector. As discussed earlier, there has been some progress around shared logistics, such as the Brisbane warehouse funded by AusAID, and while agencies do undertake joint training and simulations these are not currently done in a coordinated or systematic manner. As such, all agencies indicated that there is limited preparedness done through a multi-agency, civil-military or larger ‘whole-ofcommunity’ lens and this hinders the effectiveness of multi-agency coordination in response to emergencies.

While some agencies attempted to coordinate their resources, it was ultimately impractical to organise due to time and resource pressures during the response. As mentioned earlier, two ANGOs did work out secondment arrangements but explained this was only possible due to the strong existing relationship between staff at the two agencies. Moreover, they noted that while the secondment was seen as a positive exercise there were unanticipated difficulties that arose around the seconded staff member engaging with the media, staff support and cost responsibilities. The agencies suggested that future secondments would require more formal and detailed agreements between the agencies to address issues such as these. Other responding agencies reported similar difficulties in their attempts to undertake joint responses, and noted that for such levels of cooperation to be feasible there needed to be processes and agreements in place in advance of an emergency. There was consensus that in order to develop these agreements and to understand the scope of multi-agency cooperation that is possible between ANGOs, there would need to be a significant increase in cooperative planning and preparedness efforts.

What and who were your primary sources of information in relation to the series of disasters?13

All respondents noted that their most valuable source of information was always their in-country partners as they provide the most up-to-date and relevant information. They also noted that in-country partners usually had relationships with NDMOs and other relevant affected government departments. Similarly, in-country partners were able to provide information from in-country coordination meetings and could channel information from these sources through to their Australian counterparts. As such, in-country partners were best placed to provide an understanding of needs and issues arising from the disaster.

Respondents also indicated that their confederation or alliance was a major source of information, bringing together regional offices and partners to share information.

Agencies indicated that the HRG coordination teleconferences were a useful information sharing mechanism, but were not a primary source of information. As discussed previously, agencies felt the HRG teleconferences were a valuable way to confirm information about the situation in-country, and to gather information about other Australian based NGOs’ activities.

Similarly, agencies mentioned the HRG capacity matrix as a mechanism for sharing information about agency operations but noted the amount of work required to keep the information up to date. The capacity matrix has since been replaced by consolidated situation reports. These reports aim to relieve pressure on staff by compiling relevant information from all agencies into one concise document. Respondents were positive about the consolidated situation report, but again highlighted that it is still resource intensive to produce and needs to be further refined to capture more strategic and cross-cutting issues such as protection, security and coordination.

Other important sources of information mentioned included public websites such as ReliefWeb and AlertNet, UN OCHA and other relevant UN agencies, the cluster system, and regional coordination fora such as the Pacific Humanitarian Forum.

Most respondents also indicated that they undertake bilateral information sharing with staff at other ANGOs and with AusAID.

How was information shared among stakeholders?14

There was general consensus that during the emergency response phase, information sharing largely centred on who is doing what and where, on-the-ground organisational capacities and on-the-ground linkages with NDMOs.

In terms of ‘how information was shared’, the most frequently reported fora were HRG emergency teleconferences, situation reports (ACFID-generated, OCHA-generated, agency-generated), ReliefWeb, direct contact with on-the-ground partners and/or agency counterparts, email networks and confederation/ agency alliance communication channels.

Key stakeholders in information sharing were identified as the ANGO community, AusAID, confederation/ alliance partners, regional fora such as the Australia-New Zealand Act Alliance Forum, diasporas, NZCID and NZAID. Although AusAID was considered a key stakeholder in the information sharing process, respondents were generally of the opinion that information flow was often one way during HRG emergency teleconferences. Many noted the missed opportunity of obtaining information updates from AusAID on emerging issues, challenges, general situation on the ground, other whole-of-government department plans, and emerging donor responses.

To what extent was the sharing of information institutionalised?

There was general consensus that information sharing through the HRG teleconferences and capacity matrix was institutionalised as a process, but that it also involved a large relational component. Some respondents felt that the good personal relationships were a particular strength of the HRG as they facilitated cooperation between the agencies on a number of fronts. Other respondents expressed concerns about the level to which the relationships between agencies are based on personal connections rather than institutional imperatives that would drive information sharing.

Agencies noted that information sharing mechanisms with AusAID and other government departments were mainly institutionalised because AusAID in principle speaks on behalf of these stakeholders when interacting with the HRG and non-HRG members in emergency response. In practice, some agencies indicated that they rely on personal relationships with staff in the ADF and other stakeholders to share information.

Respondents indicated that for other stakeholders, such as NDMOs in-country, there is a concerted effort to establish personal relationships and strengthen organisational linkages in order to maximise information sharing and facilitate a more coordinated disaster response. For example, some NGOs have co-located offices with the NDMO to achieve these ends.

In terms of multi-agency communication and information sharing, what worked well and why?

There was general agreement that the HRG teleconferences were helpful, particularly in relation to obtaining an overview of what individual HRG agencies were doing. Many noted that the teleconferences also allowed for a degree of triangulation, a key need at a time when information is coming from multiple sources and the validity of that information is unclear. It was also highlighted that through these teleconferences ACFID was perceived to have improved its processes in supporting its members and facilitating member response to disasters, for example through its efforts to consolidate agency specific situation reports, draw in NZCID and reach out to diaspora groups.

Respondents were divided on the inclusion of AusAID in the teleconferences. At best, agencies felt that inclusion allowed for a single entry point, when called upon, to providing an update of whole-of-government response, including that of the ADF and other departments, as well as funding updates. At the same time, respondents felt that the quality of the NGO-AusAID relationship during emergency response was also driven by AusAID representation in coordination fora. The more engaged, forthcoming with information and consistent the AusAID representation, the better and more useful the outcomes. At the same time, respondents felt that the inclusion also had an unintended effect of raising competition levels amongst NGOs positioning for favour with AusAID.

Respondents were in general agreement that the inclusion of NZCID in the teleconferences was extremely useful in supporting a more coordinated regional response and encouraged this expanded participation for regional responses in the future.

At the same time, respondents, although supportive of the teleconferences, also felt that when OCHA was involved in a response and its information systems were up and running (i.e. situation reports), the value of the HRG teleconferences declined. Feedback suggested that HRG teleconferences were useful as interim information sharing fora but their usefulness declined as other formal coordination mechanisms (e.g. clusters) are set up and running in the affected country. With that said, respondents also balanced this comment with the suggestion that the usefulness of these teleconferences would be enhanced if the focus changed from information sharing to identification of areas where a collaborative or collective response to thematic issues, messaging or advocacy could be promoted and endorsed.

In terms of multi-agency communication and information sharing, what did not work well and why?

While respondents indicated that the HRG teleconferences function reasonably well as an information sharing mechanism there were issues as well and they are noted below:

  • The degree to which HRG teleconferences are useful is in part dependent on the commitment of the members to engage. Specifically, the more focused the individual NGOs are in relation to what they ‘bring to the table’, and the more prepared they are to share information, the more useful the process.
  • The tendency of HRG teleconferences to focus on operational issues (e.g. who is doing what, where and when) and the presentation of raw data or promotion of individual agency efforts is a missed opportunity for more strategic discussion. This is exacerbated by inconsistency in NGO representation on emergency calls. Agencies need continuity in representation and an institutionalised understanding of the HRG as this encourages a more proactive and task oriented outcome.
  • Although non-HRG members are invited in on the emergency teleconferences, the structure of the teleconferences is not conducive to full participation as limited guidance is provided on intent and deliverables of the teleconferences. This represents another missed opportunity to increase the value and collective outputs of the ‘coordination’ mechanism.
  • Information shared at HRG teleconferences may be useful in relation to what agencies are doing in Australia, but this has limited impact in relation to agency decisions in the field. Some respondents also noted that their field offices are autonomous and have primacy in partnering relationships. These field offices are well connected to existing coordination structures and not only use these systems to identify need, but to determine where and how their partners in Australia will respond.
  • The ACFID consolidated situation reports are information intense and as a result time consuming to produce. Reports may take a day or two to consolidate: as an emergency response is in constant motion, a situation report is extremely time sensitive and its added value diminishes significantly if not attuned to time sensitivity issues.
  • Information sharing should be reciprocal. At one level, NGOs appear reticent about being more open and transparent in what they share at teleconferences—this may be a function of competition over funding or because of other considerations. NGOs also felt that information flow from AusAID was often slow or limited. Agencies questioned the hesitancy of AusAID to share information that might be coming from AusAID posts or other donors. As a number of respondents noted, it would not appear that this information would be of a classified nature and appears to be shared with others already, such as the RRT (Rapid Response Team)15. In support of a more comprehensive and partnership-focused approach to disaster response, the more information that AusAID provides, the greater the potential for agencies to direct and/or redirect their assistance.
  • Agencies reported that having AusAID serve as the contact point for all government departments reduced the demands on staff time as they did not have to navigate the contact points for multiple departments. While AusAID in principle is the conduit for whole-of-government, in practice there is only limited information shared about the activities of other government departments. Respondents specifically mentioned the Attorney General’s Department (Emergency Management Australia), the Bureau of Meteorology, the Department of Health and Ageing as well as the ADF and AFP in this regard. Many noted that this represents not only a missed opportunity to create a more cohesive civil-military response, but more broadly a ‘whole-of-community’ response to emergencies.
  • Respondents also noted that linkages with other ACFID working groups are often made only in the event of an emergency. This means that agencies are not aware of relevant initiatives and activities undertaken by working groups in non-emergency periods.
  • Some respondents noted that ACFID’s engagement with stakeholders outside of its membership is relatively shallow in relation to information sharing. For example, the ACFID website provides minimal information regarding a disaster and the consolidated situation reports have minimal circulation. This is also a missed opportunity for ACFID to assume a more representative role on behalf of the sector.
  • Several respondents highlighted the lack of information dissemination within their own organisations. Consolidated situation reports, for example, are of limited use if not circulated within agencies as well as between agencies.


  1. The cluster approach is a component of the humanitarian reform process launched by the international humanitarian community in 2005. The reform process seeks to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian response through ensuring greater predictability, accountability and partnership. The cluster approach aims to strengthen overall response capacity as well as the effectiveness of the response in five key ways: (1) Sufficient capacity maintained in the main sectors of response, ensuring timely and effective responses in new crises; (2) Predictable leadership in the main sectors of response. Cluster leads ensure response capacity is in place and that assessment, planning and response activities are conducted in collaboration with partners, in accordance with standards; (3) Partnerships between UN agencies, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, international organisations and non-government organisations (NGOs), all working together towards common humanitarian objectives through the clusters; (4) Strengthened accountability with clear roles and responsibilities; (5) Improved strategic field-level coordination and prioritisation in specific sectors of response by placing responsibility for leadership and coordination of these issues with the competent operational agency. See, for example www.
  2. ‘The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) is a technical collaboration of existing institutions and networks who pool human and technical resources for the rapid identification, confirmation and response to outbreaks of international importance. The Network provides an operational framework to link this expertise and skill to keep the international community constantly alert to the threat of outbreaks and ready to respond.’ See
  3. The Periodic Funding Agreement (PFA) is an emergency funding agreement between AusAID and five Australian NGOs and the Australian Red Cross that allows them to access fast-track funding in the event of an emergency.
  4. ACFID and AusAID. August 2007. Emergency Response Supply Chain Assessment.
  5. Questions 2, 3 and 4 merged.
  6. The New Zealand Council for International Development (NZCID) is the peak body for international aid and development organisations based in New Zealand, See:
  7. See
  8. ‘The Sphere Project is an initiative to define and uphold the standards by which the global community responds to the plight of people affected by disasters, principally through a set of guidelines that are set out in the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response (commonly referred to as the Sphere Handbook).’ See
  9. Questions 1, 5 and 6 merged.
  10. Questions 2 and 3 combined.
  11. The Rapid Response Team is an internal Australian Government surge capacity mechanism for disaster response.