( By WHO - OMS, 1999 )

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1 - Planning the assessment

This section contains information on: time and distance factors in emergencies, final preparations, the assessment itself, the best working practices, and common sources of error.

The seven preparedness measures listed in the previous section can also serve as a checklist for planning a rapid health assessment when an emergency is reported or rumoured.

Considering time and distance factors

Rapid assessment time-frame requirements and opportunities vary with the type of event and the accessibility of the affected area. In general, the following holds true:

Rapid-onset emergencies, such as earthquakes and chemical accidents, require the most immediate assessment, in a matter of hours after the impact.

Epidemics, floods and sudden displacements of population should be assessed at the latest within two to four days.

In the case of suspected famine, where the onset is usually slower and an adequate investigation requires sampling the population, the assessment may take somewhat longer.

In some situations, logistic or security considerations (e.g. in complex emergencies) may reduce the time available for conducting the assessment at field level to a few hours.

Distance or difficult access to the affected area, or both, can delay the initial assessment. If several areas have been affected, or the emergency is thought to have had widespread impact, several small assessment teams may be needed. In almost all situations, the initial rapid assessment should be followed by a more thorough and focused one. In particular, when the effectiveness of emergency response is being evaluated, it is necessary to collect baseline information through surveys that use probability sampling of the population.

Making the final preparations

The final preparations include: determining what information to gather, coordinating different organizations, selecting team members, identifying the team leader and assigning tasks, and making administrative arrangements.

Determining what information to gather

The two most important criteria for deciding what information to collect in a rapid assessment are its usefulness for timely decision-making and its public health importance.

Coordinating different organizations

Members of the rapid health assessment team should contact as many as possible of the organizations delivering emergency response, to coordinate activities and avoid duplicating efforts. Coordination and pooling of resources can produce a more complete and rapid assessment.

Selecting team members

The rapid health assessment should be performed by a multidisciplinary team of qualified personnel, representing an appropriate range of expertise. For example, a team to assess the health needs of a refugee population should include an individual from each of the following fields: public health and epidemiology, nutrition, logistics, and environmental health.

The following criteria should be taken into account in selecting team members:

- familiarity with the region or population affected;

- knowledge of and experience with the type of emergency being assessed;

- personal qualities, such as endurance, motivation, and personal health, the capacity for teamwork, and local acceptability for team members recruited abroad;

- analytical skills, particularly the ability to see trends and patterns; and

- the capacity to make correct decisions in unstructured situations on the basis of relatively sparse data.

Identifying the team leader and assigning tasks

One team leader must be identified to coordinate technical preparations for the field assessment, such as delegating responsibilities among members, ensuring consistency in approach and use of questionnaires, and preparing laboratory supplies and other equipment.

Making administrative arrangements

These include:

- obtaining travel and security clearances;

- organizing transportation and other logistics (e.g. vehicles, fuel, and, in some cases, camping equipment, food, and beverages);

- setting up the communications system and informing the authorities in the affected area of the assessmentís timetable;

- organizing other equipment, such as computers, height boards, scales, and checklists; and

- ensuring safety and security of team members from violence, infection or other hazards in the emergency-affected area.