Safety all around: How we ensure staff stay safe in an emergency

Our Safety and Security lead Melanie Murphy highlights some of the biggest risks when responding to an emergency and why it is important that CARE puts women and girls at the centre of our work.

In any emergency, we have three categories of threats that we prioritize.

The first threats are the ones that existed before the emergency even struck. These usually don’t go away just because an emergency has erupted. In fact, they usually get worse. These could be anything from ongoing conflict in a community, to diseases that are endemic in that area. To deal with these threats, our teams undergo safety and security training appropriate to the level of risk they will face, and we build procedures into the way that we work that allow us to both prevent, and react to various situations and threats.

The second set of threats are ones directly related to the emergency. So in a flood, for example, we might be concerned about rushing water that could sweep away our teams or injury from sharp debris and damaged buildings. We need to remember that, in most cases, the people who make up the majority of our CARE teams are local to the countries where CARE works. This means that they're responding to an emergency on a large scale on behalf of CARE, while simultaneously managing their own personal and family situations. And so, stress and trauma from being personally impacted are included as threats in a crisis.

The third set of threats are those caused by the emergency. In a flood, damaged water systems could contaminate drinking water and increase the risk of water-born illnesses. Water-logged land can increase risk of landslides. And if essential aid is delayed, people sometimes end up turning to looting or crime in an attempt to protect their families. And on top of this is the risk cumulative stress from working long hours in resource-scarce settings, doing difficult work; coupled with risks of vicarious trauma from seeing so much suffering among others.

Managing safety and security risks is a top for priority for us at all times, especially during an emergency response. We need to keep our staff safe in order to do our work. So this is top of mind when we begin an emergency response.

We also pay attention to the diversity of our staff, because different threats will impact different people. For instance, our male and female staff may face different risks, and so we factor gender into our planning, assessments and day-to-day work.

CARE is currently responding to the needs of survivors of Cyclone Idai, and gaining an understanding of these threats in this context, and developing plans that will help us to mitigate them, are central to our ongoing response there.