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Before The Crisis: Planning

(Adapted from the Crisis Management Handbook: A Guide for Overseas Staff, Peace Corps Volunteer Safety Council)


Planning is a critical component in crisis management. A comprehensive planning process includes not only creating a plan, but training, rehearsing, coordinating with other agencies, and periodically evaluating and updating the plan. The EAP provides a framework for contingency planning and defines the communication network to be used in an emergency. The college or university/study abroad programs should have an EAP to provide for the safety and orderly withdrawal of staff and students. The EAP is "living document" that will require regular revision as staff and students come and go, or as the general conditions within the country change. The following sections provide guidelines for the process of Emergency Action Planning.


The Peace Corps EAP is usually a single document that contains 1) an introduction, 2) the basic plan itself, 3) modular extensions or "pull-out" sheets, and 4) any supporting documents or reference materials. There are four basic steps to creating a plan. These are:

  • Establishing a planning team
  • Analyzing the hazards in country and the capacity to respond
  • Developing the plan itself
  • Operationalizing the plan

Each of these steps is outlined below.

2.1.1 Establishing a Planning Team

While the Program Administrator(s) has/have the ultimate responsibility for developing, updating and implementing an Emergency Action Plan (EAP), the plan is part of a larger system that includes the college or university, the study abroad program office abroad and in the U.S., the US Embassy (the Regional Security Officer or RSO), and the larger community. It is therefore most effective to coordinate emergency planning efforts with the Embassy and RSO as key team members.

The Emergency Action Planning team should include the users of the plan and representatives from each group or organization that would have a critical role in its implementation. Key members should include the following:

  • Program Administrator
  • Other Administrators
  • On-site Health Provider
  • On-site Counseling Provider
  • Insurance Representative
  • 24 Hour Assistance
  • U.S. college or university/Study abroad program support team
    - student affairs administrators
    - study abroad administrators
    - campus security officer
    - risk manager
    - legal counsel
    - health center
    - counseling center
    - public relations
    - president or chancellor's office
  • Embassy representative
  • Student representative

Any document produced should be given broad staff and student review. This will help ensure that all factors are taken into account, and enable staff and students to consider their own contingencies.

The primary task of each member of the planning team is to define his/her respective role and responsibilities in carrying out the EAP, including coordination with U.S. Embassy, college or university /study abroad program in the U.S. or abroad, host country government and other agencies and resources. The planning team will also need to define clear lines of authority and their responsibilities to each other in implementing a coordinated effort.

To the extent possible, planning team members could also be members of the task force that responds to the crisis. They will already be familiar with the EAP and will have had experience working as an effective team.

2.1.2 Analyzing the Hazards and Capabilities

The next step toward creating an EAP involves gathering information about probable emergencies and environmental hazards, and assessing the current capabilities of the system to respond. The following tasks will help you decide what information should be included in the EAP.

1. Review the country's history of recent experiences and identify the potential hazards and emergencies, and where appropriate, when they are likely to occur, in the following areas:

  • Natural disasters (hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, floods, fires, etc.)
  • Environmental (nuclear hazards, pollution, water and air contaminants)
  • Medical (accidents, injuries, epidemics)
  • Technical (communications system failures, power failures)
  • Socio-political (civil and political unrest, riots and demonstrations, military coups)

2. Review Program policy and any relevant site documents, such as those focused on:

  • Medical emergencies and evacuations
  • Family emergencies
  • Safety and security precautions
  • Country Evacuations
  • Emergency travel and allowances
  • Insurance and reimbursement for property damage or loss
  • Emergency Action Planning

3. Assess internal resources and capabilities

  • Staff and Faculty- know the strengths and capabilities of team members and other staff (public contacts, information access, special skills, etc.)
  • Equipment (fire protection, radios and communication systems, medical equipment, emergency power supply, etc.)
  • Transportation (vehicles, drivers, trucks, planes, helicopters, fuel, etc.)
  • Facilities (meeting places, safe havens, shelters, storage areas for food and water)

4. Identify external resources and outside contact groups

  • Host country government officials and ministries
  • Police and Fire Departments
  • Host country military commanders and facilities
  • Airport authorities and travel agents
  • Telephone and other utility companies
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • International Red Cross and U.N. offices
  • Other embassies or consulates
  • Other U.S. study abroad programs/organizations
  • Other local universities/colleges
  • Other NGO's and volunteer agencies
  • Missionary groups


Developing the plan involves:

  • Drafting, revising and finalizing the document
  • Developing supporting documents (checklists, maps, sample letters, cables, administrative forms, reports, memorandum of agreements, etc.)
  • Obtaining approval from appropriate authorities and collaborators
  • Printing and distributing the final documents

Following is a sample format outline to guide you through the process of drafting your Emergency Action Plan.



The EAP is usually a single document that contains an introduction, the basic plan itself, modular extensions about specific crises, and any necessary supporting documents. The introduction should:

  • State the purpose of the Emergency Action Plan
  • Identify the users of the EAP
  • Designate where the EAP is kept
  • Identify to whom the EAP had been distributed
  • Briefly describe the development of the EAP and acknowledge its contributors
  • Instruct on the use of the EAP

The EAP should be formatted in such a way that footers are included that indicate the most current review date. Pagination allows for accuracy if the plan is being discussed with administrator(s) or others and/or portions need to be referenced or faxed. Pages should correspond with the table of contents.

To guide you through the process of developing in this section, the Emergency Action Plan Checklist is included. The checklist is also used by the program administrator(s) to review the EAPs as they are revised and submitted each year.

2.2.2 Core Content

The following are only suggestions for the basic content of an Emergency Action Plan. Each institution within each country/ region, etc. must choose the most relevant information to present and the best way to present it.

a. Types of Emergencies Covered. The EAP can cover a range of emergency situations including medical emergencies and evacuation, family crises, accidents and injuries, physical and sexual assaults, natural disasters, environmental hazards, civil unrest and political uprisings, or country evacuations. These emergencies can affect single individuals or the entire group.

b. Roles and Responsibilities. It is important to define the chain of command and decision making process in an emergency. This includes the role of the on-site administrator, U.S. college or university/study abroad program administrator(s), the US Embassy and others in responding to a crisis. The functions and responsibilities of each staff member should be clearly defined. It is most useful to refer to positions rather than individuals in defining roles and responsibilities.

A Crisis Task Force (often composed of, but not limited to, the members of the EAP planning team) should be established at this point. The task force can help process information, develop contingency plans and provide:

  • Liaison with the U.S. Embassy
  • Liaison with the U.S. college or university/ study abroad program administrator(s) at the U.S. home campus
  • Communication with students
  • Liaison with host country government, police, military, etc.
  • Information gathering and processing (including media relations)
  • Logistics coordination (transportation, supplies, housing, etc.)
  • Financial and administrative advice
  • Medical Advice
  • Communication with parents, family, etc.

Finally, the students need to know what is expected of them as individuals and members of a group.

c. Communication. Effective communication is the key to any crisis management system. Experience indicates that effective communication must operate on several levels: on-site program administrator, host country nationals, country/regional, and U.S. -side institutional administrators. Creating and developing these networks prior to an emergency reduces the chances of breakdown and misunderstanding at the moment of crisis. Students can play a major role in developing a working communications system by:

  • Identifying the resources in their respective communities
  • Developing liaison with other agencies, university study abroad programs and host country nationals
  • Keeping the office informed of their whereabouts
  • Following procedures stipulated in the EAP
  • Staying in touch with other students and using the buddy system

Explore all possible methods of communication, using local and national resources. It is not unusual for telephones to malfunction during a number of crisis scenarios.

Radio stations and government radio networks can be very helpful. Whatever information is provided in the EAP should be complete, specific (who, what, how) and up-to-date.

An agreed upon time and schedule for telephone or other contact should also be established and maintained. The frequency of contact will depend on the acuity of the situation and developing circumstances. It is not only important to determine who, where and how communications should take place but what kind of information is needed and the relative urgency of the message. Checking to see if the message was accurate is also very important, especially under conditions of stress. Having the person repeat or write down the message assures better accuracy and reliability.

Sending messages via a third party to the U.S. college or university/study abroad program in crisis situations is also important. When sending an emergency message through a third party, keep the following in mind:


In any emergency contact where an operator or message taker is involved, please be prepared to provide the following information:

  1. Your name
  2. Where you are
  3. Nature of the emergency
  4. Tel. Number and where administrator(s) may contact you
  5. Until when/for how long
  6. When you will call back if you have not been called

Be sure to stress that this is an urgent or emergency situation!

The responsibility of communicating with the families of the students can rest with various administrators. As soon as the evacuation is confirmed, the families of all students should be contacted. It is important to maintain regular contact with students' families throughout the crisis, apprising them of developments as they occur and providing appropriate support.

d. Travel and Transportation. Information on travel methods and routes must also be as specific as possible (overland, air, sea, private, commercial, and/or military). Maps demarcating pick-up points, potential landing sites for aircraft and/or helicopter, and estimated travel times under normal circumstances should also be included. Guidance about border crossing should also be provided, crossing and making contact with appropriate authorities in third country. Most importantly, alternative methods of travel and routes must be presented and prioritized in the event that the usual routes are no longer safe or feasible. Student and staff sites should be clearly located on the maps.

e. Safety and Health Concerns. The EAP should address basic safety and health precautions, including information about:

  • Safe water and food supplies stocked at safe havens
  • Medications and first aid supplies
  • Safe shelter
  • Dealing with military, police, other officials

f. Administration. The EAP should specify what administrative responsibilities require attention in the event of a crisis. To fulfill these responsibilities it is recommended to have response systems in place before the crisis occurs. The Administrator should:

  • Keep student rosters up-to-date
  • Prepare student withdrawal documents
  • Procure lodging and food supply for assembly location
  • Assure adequate fuel supply and road worthiness of vehicle
  • Coordinate evacuation transport with Emergency Action Committee
  • Collect inventory of student personal effects left in country (Attachment I)
  • Prepare travel plans
  • Provide travel advances to students, staff

g. Contingencies. Even the best laid plans cannot factor in all possible contingencies. Yet probable scenarios that impact on communications (no telephone lines), transportation (public transport strike), or coordination (capital city destabilized) should be addressed.

2.2.3 Planning for and Managing Evacuations

Most Peace Corps programs use a three stage model to identify alert status based on the standard established by the US Embassy. Stages should be clearly defined, along with the criteria for progression to the next stage in coordination with appropriate college or university/ study abroad administrator(s) and the Embassy. Specific action plans should be developed for each stage so that students know what to do and what to expect at each step.

Stage I Standfast-impending emergency, remain at site
Stage II Consolidation-go to prearranged assembly point, prepare for withdrawal
Stage III Evacuation-leave as a group for safe haven

It is absolutely essential to be clear about:

  • How students will be notified of what stage is in effect and when it changes (specific languages that can be transmitted over public airwaves that alerts the students without creating further panic)
  • What they must do (or not do) at each stage
  • What to bring, what to leave behind
  • What to say to local nationals, friends, colleagues
  • Main office procedures for notifying students' families
  • How to prepare (stock supplies, pack evacuation bag, etc.)
  • Instructions on how to move form one site to another
  • Alternatives/contingencies if plan fails (communications, travel, safe havens)

2.2.4 Planning for and Managing Specific Crises

These could be prepared as separate stages or "pull-outs" to cover different types of emergencies or disasters such as:

  • Medical emergencies (Attachment II)
  • Family emergencies
  • Accident and injuries
  • Student death
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Political/civil unrest
  • Natural disasters (hurricane, floods, earthquakes, fires)

"Pull-outs" have the advantage of being readily accessible and containing situation-specific information and action plans. Countries that are at high risk for certain types of natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, nuclear accidents) should consult the appropriate local department for emergency preparedness and obtain technical assistance in preparing for and responding to these hazards.

2.2.5 Checklists

Checklists are invaluable in planning and implementing an Emergency Action Plan. They assure completeness and greatly increase efficiency. The following checklists were found to be essential or very helpful by the Peace Corps:

  • Rosters of all students and their addresses
  • List of passport numbers, expiration dates and location of passport for each student
  • Names of students with special medical needs
  • Complete information on assembly points, who should go where and when
  • Maps and locators for each student (Attachment IV)
  • Contacts where each student is housed and for each excursion
  • Maps, travel routes and modes of transportation from each site to assembly points and capital or evacuation point
  • Communication networks (telephone numbers, radio locations, frequencies, operators, hours of operation, etc.)
  • Emergency telephone numbers for local police, fire, hospital, Embassy, etc.
  • List of other agencies, missionaries, government offices, private citizens who could be a resource during an emergency (including names, addresses and telephone numbers)
  • Locators for all staff (addresses, telephone numbers, maps)
  • List of food/water/emergency supplies to be kept in student homes, study abroad centers, assembly sites and safe havens
  • List of essential items to include in an emergency evacuation pack
  • "To do" list if student has to leave home in a hurry
  • Schedules for testing and updating EAP

2.2.6 Supporting Documents

Supporting documents may include:

  • Budget for developing, testing, and maintaining an operational EAP
  • Policy statements from the college or university/study abroad program relevant to emergency planning and evacuations
  • Sample communications, letters and cables
  • EAP summary pull-out for each student for quick reference (this can be included in the medical kit)
Country: Date:
Content yes no comments

Table of contents, appendix

Purpose of Statement

Types of emergencies

Staff roles and responsibilities

Student roles and responsibilities

Embassy warden system

Procedures for three phases (standfast,
consolidation, and evacuation)

Collaborative Arrangements with
Host Government

Cooperation with embassy and
embassy EAP

Emergency communications system

Alternative communication methods
and contacts in event of telephone
failure (e.g., other agencies with radios)

Transportation methods and routes

Strategies for localized emergencies

Short version (2-3 pages)

Safety precautions for specific
emergencies, i.e. natural disasters

Standard forms, i.e. student contact
sheet, vehicle emergency supply list

Supporting Documents

Student rosters and locators,
passport numbers


Emergency telephone numbers and
radio frequencies and locations

Content yes no comments

Assembly points and how
to get there

Local resources (hospitals,
clinics, police, Embassy officials,
missionaries, other study abroad
programs, local university

Emergency supplies at
assembly points, housing,
study abroad centers, vehicle)

List of other resources
(medical evac. guidelines,
student handbook, etc.)

Instructions if students must
cross border and points of
contact in neighboring countries

  Please explain

How it is used

Where is it kept

Who has copies

How it is presented/used in training

   last date  next date
Testing of plan

Updating of plan


Operationalizing the plan involves more than implementing it at the time of the crisis. It includes:

  • Informing the staff and students about the plan
  • Securing the resources (people and things) necessary to implement the plan
  • Integrating the plan into normal program operations (budget, reporting requirements, student and staff training, etc.)
  • Orienting and training staff and students on use of the plan
  • Developing a system for testing, updating and revising the plan

2.3.1 Training

In order to avoid the "paper plan syndrome" the Emergency Action Plan must be put to use through training and periodic testing. Everyone will require some sort of training on the Emergency Action Plan, but one person or committee should be given the responsibility for planning, implementing and evaluating the training program.

The purpose of the training is to:

  • Maintain an appropriate level of safety/security awareness
  • Familiarize the staff and students with the plan
  • Make sure everyone understand their part in the plan (roles and responsibilities)
  • Become familiar with the mechanics, equipment and procedures necessary to implement the plan (e.g., use of radios, first aid equipment and alarm systems, etc.)
  • Convert an abstract plan into concrete actions
  • Provide an opportunity for questions and concerns

At the end of training, trainees should know:

  • Whom to contact
  • How to make contact
  • What to do
  • Where to go
  • What is expected of them

Staff training about crisis management should occur at all levels, with personnel in the U.S. and abroad. Once in country or on-site, staff needs to develop specific knowledge and familiarity with people, equipment, geography and procedures in order to implement the plan.

Student orientation most often is initiated in the pre-departure orientation program in the U.S. and reviewed at the on-site orientation abroad. However, each program needs to determine who receives the training, who does the training, when and where it should occur, and how to best get the information across.

There are a few basic concepts that might prove helpful in designing effective training (training officers will be extremely helpful here:

  • Make sure you have their attention (avoid distractions)
  • Repeat key concepts (repetition is the key to retention)
  • Make it relevant (indicate how EAP affects them personally)
  • Translate abstract concepts into concrete actions (use simulations, role play)
  • Participatory learning is more effective than passive learning
  • Review the EAP after critical incidents when interest and motivation are high (timing is crucial)
  • Use senior staff as trainers (the best way to learn something is to teach it)

2.3.2 Testing and Rehearsal

Testing and rehearsal serve a training purpose as well as a check on the appropriateness and efficacy of the EAP. It can range form a simple review of procedures to a full scale exercise. While conducting a full scale exercise may often prove impractical, many countries have implemented a system of testing certain components of the EAP such as:

  • Student locator system
  • Communication systems and contingency plans
  • Medical alerts
  • Resource inventory and testing
  • Safety and security tests
  • Simulations and on-site drills
  • Information gathering and processing

Regardless of how the testing is done, the important thing is to DO IT! The results should be documented and used to revise, update or reinforce the existing EAP.


When a crisis occurs, adrenaline begins to pump and energy levels mount. It is important to channel this energy into constructive course so as to avoid conflict and confusion. Delegating functions and tasks into which staff members and students can channel energy include:

  • Gate keeping--ensuring orderly access to crisis management team
  • Material support--ensuring food, water, stationery, etc. are on hand
  • Emotional support--providing relief and support to crisis workers as stress increases
  • Recording--maintaining a daily log and updates as the crisis develops

The optimum leadership style will be determined by the personal characteristics of the team leader and what the crisis dictates. Successful crisis team leaders have been those who have been open, supportive, flexible and still decisive and directive when the moment warrants. The ability to manage varying levels of conflict-among staff and students, with the media, and demands from U.S. college or university/study abroad program--will be essential.

(Adapted from the Crisis Management Handbook: A Guide for Overseas Staff, Peace Corps Volunteer Safety Council)