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Getting ready for your emergency deployment

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Key points
  • Honestly assess your physical and psychological readiness for deployment.
  • Contact UNHCR's staff welfare section for psychological preparation unless you have attended a WEM recently
  • Discuss the deployment with your partner and friends. If you have children help them to understand what you will be doing.
  • Before you leave, ask a few close friends to be regularly in touch with you.
  • Prepare a realistic self-care plan.
  • Ensure that your private financial and administrative affairs are in order and taken care of.
  • Ensure that you have a reliable back-up at work in case of your absence
  • Take care of your health – do not procrastinate the medical and dental appointments
  • Ensure your travel documents are in order.
  • Learn about the operation
  • Keep a positive attitude and open mind towards your role in the operation.


Preparing for your emergency deployment usually requires you to consider three areas. This Entry discusses:

  • Psychological preparedness – for you, your family, and friends.
  • Practical readiness, including your personal and professional affairs, and what to pack.
  • Situational preparedness. You should study and understand, as far as possible, the operational context in which you will be working.

You may be called to deploy to an emergency at short notice. (Members of UNHCR's internal emergency roster have committed to deploy within 72 hours.) You may have little time to make yourself ready and deployment will dramatically interrupt and change what you do currently.

An emergency assignment also challenges your wellbeing: the working hours, especially to start with, will be long; working conditions will not be ideal; living conditions may be spartan; security may be a concern; your sleep is likely to suffer. You can be effective in such conditions, but you are likely to manage the stress of your deployment much better if you are well prepared.

Emergency missions can also create anxiety in those around you. Deployments can easily disrupt our relationships with partners, spouses, children and friends. All may have concerns, and it is important to find ways to include them as you prepare to deploy.

Main guidance

Underlying policies, principles and/or standards

Psychological preparedness
Since 2012, psychological preparation is offered as a matter of course to all staff assigned to D and E duty stations. It covers potentially broad range of subjects.

  • Personal and family issues.
  • Practical and logistical arrangements at home or at base.
  • Practical preparations for deployment.
  • Psychological preparation.

When you prepare psychologically, you attune your inner resources to the coming situation. A person who is psychologically prepared expects certain challenges, foresees their impact, understands how he or she will react, is able to identify his or her inner resources, and knows where and how to seek support when needed.
People differ in the degree of preparation they need. Some prepare very thoroughly. Their preparation is planned and detailed. Others are happier to go with a flow. Find what level of preparation suits your personal needs.

Attitude is an important factor, and will influence your ability to succeed in the demanding and chaotic environment of an emergency. What qualities are required of members of an emergency team?

  • To be professional.
  • To be a team player.
  • To be flexible and understanding.
  • To have a sense of humour!

Practical readiness
The underlying principle is that you should not delay your deployment, because the emergency response operation will need you. A few days in a fast moving operation can make a big difference.

Members of UNHCR's internal roster are typically recommended to avoid important commitments (weddings, pregnancy, paternity leave) during the period of their standby commitment (9 months). Your current professional environment should be willing to approve your departure at short notice. Plan in advance what you will pack, though this of course depends on the context.

Situational Preparedness
While you can and should actively research the country and operational context to which you will deploy, it is well understood that you cannot prepare deeply if you are deployed within a few hours or days.


Good practice recommendations

Psychological preparedness

Create a mental picture. Think about the upcoming deployment and compare it to previous deployments. Develop this into a structured preparation by reflecting on what was helpful to you in similar contexts and what you would have done differently. Ask what aspects of the new deployment are likely to be the most challenging for you, professionally and personally.
This exercise will help you to identify the challenges you are likely to face and the resources you will draw on to cope and deal with them.

Assess your current psychosocial wellbeing. It may be difficult to assess your own state of mind. Nevertheless, try to give yourself some honest feedback on how you have functioned in recent months. Have you slept for enough time and well? What has been your level of energy? What has been your prevailing mood? Have you consumed more alcohol than usual, or other substances? What level of social support have you received from others? Have you been able to support people close to you? Are you running away from anything?
The answers to these questions may help you identify areas to which you should give attention. A conversation with a Staff Welfare Officer (SWO) may help you to identify such issues faster and to develop a plan for addressing them. If the exercise makes you unsure about your deployment, contact a SWO for a confidential conversation.

Familiarize yourself with typical stress and trauma reactions. When we experience psychological disturbances, if we do not understand what are they linked to, we can feel as if our body or mind has let us down. If you are familiar with the neurobiological symptoms of stress and trauma, you will be able to recognise stress reactions faster and will be more likely to address them constructively. (See Entry Coping with Stress and Dealing with critical incidents and trauma)

Develop your personal indicators of fatigue. Being aware of our stress reactions is a first step towards building resilience. When we are in the middle of a difficult situation, it is hard to step back and decide what we need to do to change our situation. Put down how you feel, think and behave when you are close to the edge or extremely tired. Discuss your list with friends who know you well; ask them to comment on it and add their observations of you.

The ‘buddy system'. It has been shown that the support of close friends helps to sustain people who are working in stressful conditions. Ask a few trusted friends or family members to check on you regularly while you are deployed. If possible, discuss how they will ‘watch over you' and what warning signs they will look for. Make use of your personal indicators of fatigue.

Prepare a self care plan. (See Entry Coping with Stress.) Think what normally relaxes you (music, books, sport, etc.). Keep such items ready: prepare your kindle and music, food, photographs, exercise equipment (skipping rope, pilates' ball, football). Design a realistic self-care plan that you know you can implement.

Take care of your relationships. Emergency deployment will disrupt your relationships. That does not mean they will dissolve, but you need to pay attention to how they are affected. Observation suggests that relationships survive best when everyone is involved in preparing for deployment. This may seem counter-intuitive: you may be tempted to conceal dangerous or ugly aspects of the operation from those you love. In fact, by giving them a role, you help those close to you to prepare themselves; and they often feel fulfilled by supporting you. The connection between you can become stronger as you foster inter-reliance. If those close to you become very anxious, contact a SWO for advice and support.

Help your children to understand. Today it is harder and harder to keep information away from children. Try to understand how they imagine your world. Help them to understand where you will be going, what you will be doing, and how you will keep in contact. Be aware that your children may well have heard or read news about the place to which you will deploy.

Practical Readiness

Sort out your affairs. It is important to put your financial, legal and daily affairs in order before you leave. Once you are on mission it is unlikely that you will be able to settle bills, pay the rent, or take care of other aspects of your life at home. Plan for this in advance and make sure that affairs at home are taken care of or can wait.

Health. Do your medical check-up and, if necessary, obtain medical clearance.

Passport. Make sure your passport (and UNLP if applicable) are at hand, and will remain valid for at least 18 months (or for at least six months after the end of your planned mission).

Your current work. If you need to take absence from your current job, make sure that back-up arrangements are in place, and that you have agreed with your supervisor how outstanding projects and activities will be managed while you are away.

Situational Preparedness
As far as possible, obtain and read the documents below, for the country to which you will deploy. If you are deployed through UNHCR, the DESS emergency service (or possibly the relevant country desk) may be able to obtain them for you.

  • Your terms of reference for the mission.
  • An administrative brief on the operation. (This is often provided on arrival in the country.)
  • The most recent situation reports.
  • Recent information on the country operation, if one already exists. Look at UNHCR Global Appeals or the Global Report chapter on UNHCR's website.
  • For refugee situations, look at the relevant UNHCR data portal; for IDP situations, look at the OCHA situation page.
  • Operation planning documents: the contingency plan, the Refugee Response Plan (RRP, rfefugees), the Preliminary Response Plan (PRP, IDPs), or Strategic Response Plan (SRP).
  • Media reports and analysis of the situation.


Considerations for practical implementation

Do not leave preparation for the last minute. Some things can be done much earlier. In particular, follow the advice provided in the sub-section ‘Psychological preparedness' above.
Packing tips

  • Make a checklist at once, before any decision on your deployment.
  • Adjust it to take account of conditions in the place to which you are deployed.
  • Start packing early; do not wait until the last minute.
  • Have small and large bags.
  • Pack essential food and medical items that are not standard and may be unavailable.
  • Pack personal items that will give you comfort.
  • Shop for camping equipment, clothes, etc.
  • Prioritise light, essential items. Be ready to adapt packing to actual conditions (cold, hot, humid etc.).
  • Find out what you are expected to bring, and what will be available when you arrive (laptop, specialised equipment, etc.). UNHCR usually provides ICT equipment for those it deploys. (See Entries ICT emergency preparedness.)
  • Take an inventory with you in case your bag gets lost.


Mosquito net dome, treated with repellent, freestanding.
Sleeping bag, full zip, treated with repellent.
Fleece blanket and mattress (including repair kit).
Your favourite pillow, ear plugs, sleeping mask.
Tarpaulin, solar shower, fire blanket.
Water purification bottle with integrated filter.
Micropur tablets.
Kitchen utensils(Camp-A-Box),thermos.
Multi tool, LED lamp, whistle.
LED lamp.
Compass, fire steel lighter, sewing kit, waterproof matchbox.
Set of cleaning sponges.
TSA approved padlock with code.
Refreshing tissues, germicide.
Mosquito coils with holder.
Dynamo torch, working gloves.


Greg's Tips for Emergency Missions


  • I figured out a long time ago that nothing goes well for me without a decent night's sleep. I always sort out sleeping arrangements from the beginning, and don't go anywhere without my trusty pillow. I don't need fancy - just a clean space where I can be certain of rest without, for example, being bitten to pieces by mosquitoes. In the tropics, don't move without a net or mosquito dome.
  • Having good coffee to start the day is not something to mess with. I always travel with a small cafetière, a stash of good quality ground coffee, and a small cup.
  • I also don't go anywhere without my ipod, earphones, and a small speaker. Having my own music is non-negotiable and grounds me.
  • Exercise is critical to feeling good. I travel with my running shoes and exercise bands, which allows for a good workout anywhere on earth.
  • I find that coordination and teamwork is often smoothed by a stock of decent beverages. I always leave room in my bag, no matter how small, for a good bottle or two of something that goes down well at the end of a long day. To be enjoyed with discipline, of course!

Greg Garras is a Senior Officer at UNHCR. He has worked in many humanitarian emergencies, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Timor Leste.


Resources and partnerships

UNHCR has posted staff counsellors in Islamabad, Amman, Nairobi, Juba, Kinshasa, Geneva, Beirut and Dakar, who are available for psychological preparation. (See ‘Need help?' below).

If you prefer to discuss your preparation with an external mental health professional, a SWS can refer you to one, free of charge for UNHCR staff. If you select your own psychological adviser, you will be expected to pay his or her fee, which will not be reimubursable.

Main contacts

The Emergency Service, UNHCR DESS. At: [email protected]

UNHCR staff welfare officers

Geneva HQ

Dubravka SUZIC
Chief, Psychosocial Wellbeing Section
Office Telephone: +41 22 739 7947
Mobile: +41 79 202 2417
PAMA: 90 4122 7947
SKYPE: dudasuzic
Email: [email protected]

Staff Welfare Officer
Office Telephone: +41 22 739 8235
Mobile: +41 79 217 3191
PAMA: 90 4122 8235
SKYPE: verane.braissand
Email: [email protected]

Sandrine ZUGER
Staff Welfare Officer
Office Telephone: +41 22 739 7764
SKYPE: sandrinez7
Email: [email protected]

Seynabou BADIANE
Staff Counselor
Office Telephone: + 41 22 739 7605
SKYPE: seynabou009
Email: [email protected]

Regional staff welfare officers

Snr. Regional Staff Welfare Officer
UNHCR Regional Support Hub
Nairobi, Kenya
Office Telephone: +254 20 4222 000 ext. 2610
Mobile: +254 735 337 609
PAMA: 90 254 02 2610
SKYPE: Lilian Ewagata
Email: [email protected]

Assistant Staff Welfare Officer
UNHCR Damascus, Syria
Mobile +963 930 230 708
Office Telephone: + 963 21 2240664 ext. 2116
Email: [email protected]

Wafika Reem TAFRAN
Assistant Staff Welfare Officer
UNHCR Damascus, Syria
Mobile + 963 993319722
Office Telephone: + 963 11 21812116
PAMA: 9096301 2116
SKYPE: Wafika Tafran
Email: [email protected]

Achille KODO
Snr. Regional Staff Welfare Officer
UNHCR Dakar, Senegal
Office Telephone: + 221 33 867 6207 Ext 2155
Mobile: + 221 786 370823
PAMA: 90 221 01 2180
SKYPE: achille.kodo
Email: [email protected]

Snr. Regional Staff Welfare Officer
UNHCR Amman, Jordan
Mobile + 962 79 570 43 64
Office Telephone: +962 6 5100 460 2117
PAMA: 90 96202 2117
Email: [email protected]

Staff Welfare Officer
UNHCR Beirut – Lebanon
Office Telephone: 41 22 331 5452
SKYPE: fadihamdi55
Email: [email protected]

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