This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
Rapid emergency responses can significantly reduce the impact of an emergency, particularly human suffering and fatalities, but also structural, resource, and ecological damage. Response speed is important as delays in emergency responses can lead to greater losses. There are various types of emergency services. They may be specialized to deal with specific types of emergencies such as oil spills and nuclear accidents, terrorism, highly toxic chemicals, sea rescue, avalanches, and bomb disposal. Emergency services such as the police, fire and medical services deal with a broad range of emergency situations. Emergency services may not be adequate for reasons such as lack of resources and inadequate management. They can often be overwhelmed, especially during severe natural or man-made disasters which occur without warning and cause great loss of life, trauma, structural and environmental destruction. Cross-sectoral action may be required to provide effective and rapid emergency response services.
What we know about people in crisis: 1) shared purpose and meaning brings people together; 2) people display unparalleled levels of creativity and resourcefulness; 3) people want to help others - individual agendas fade immediately; 4) people learn instantly and respond at lightning speed; 5) the more information people get, the smarter their responses; 6) leadership behaviours (not roles) appear everywhere, as needed; 7) people experiment constantly to find what works.
Following sudden disasters and similar emergencies, the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) coordinates and facilitates, and provides the framework for the UN entities responsible for relief assistance, bilateral donors, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs. At the country level, this framework is provided by the UN Resident Coordinator and the UN Disaster Management Team. In the event of a disaster, the DHA immediately issues an appeal for assistance from the international community, and makes available a constantly updated overview of the situation.
In addition to the UN's International Emergency Readiness and Response Information System (IERRIS), DHA has recently established the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination Stand-by Team, in order to respond rapidly following a sudden onset natural disaster. The UNDAC Stand-by Team has already been mobilized for serious flooding in Nepal, and the Maharashtra earthquake in India (arriving 24 hours later), among others. The UNDAC team cooperates with the UN Disaster Management Team (DMT) and the UN Resident Coordinator at the on-site level. In 1993, the first large-scale international exercise in emergency response was hosted and organized by Austria and sponsored by DHA.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies spent 150,140 Swiss frans in 1993 to enhance the Federation's ability to respond to disasters in a rapid manner in support of National Societies' actions.
When an earthquake strikes, or a bomb goes off, or a flood or fire destroys a community, people respond with astonishing capacity and effectiveness. They use any available materials to save and rescue, they perform acts of pure altruism, they open their homes to one another, they finally learn who their neighbours are. Many people who have experience in the aftermath of a disaster have reported that the participation it has changed their lives. They discovered new capacities in themselves and in their communities. They exceeded all expectations. They were surrounded by feats of caring and courage. They contributed to getting systems restored with a speed that defied all estimates.
When chaos strikes, leaders have no choice but to engage every willing soul. No emergency preparedness drill ever prepares people for what they actually end up doing. Individual initiative and involvement are essential. Yet surprisingly, in the midst of conditions of devastation and fear, people report how good they feel about themselves and their colleagues. These crisis experiences are memorable because the best of us becomes visible and available. The poorest of the poor are likely to respond to the needs of their most destitute neighbours rather than accepting relief for themselves.