Why We Need Common Disaster Management Standards and Certification

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As Southeast Asia is no stranger to devastating disasters—like the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, 2008 Cyclone Nargis, 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, and the recent Sulawesi Earthquake and Tsunami in 2018—ASEAN has been working towards a faster and more integrated collective response which reflected in the “One ASEAN, One Response” declaration by the ASEAN leaders in 2016.

But our climate reality threatens to continuously bring bigger disasters and more widespread devastation, which will draw more responders from various backgrounds and experiences. To operationalise the “One ASEAN, One Response” vision, ASEAN needs to make sure all these responders have the knowledge and skills needed to effectively contribute to disaster management efforts.

One way to do this is to develop regionally recognised Competency Standards and a certification system for disaster management professionals.

Attempt to Organise Chaos

Since the Indian Ocean Tsunami, efforts to prepare and manage disasters have become a priority for countries at risk. For example, the Philippines, with around 20 typhoons per year, has been strengthening its disaster risk reduction and management process that is comprehensive and integrated, covers all hazards, involves all sectors, and has a positive impact on communities. However, while the national capacity has significantly increased over the years, the country’s capacity to cope with disasters is often only as strong as the last biggest disaster.

When the strongest typhoon ever recorded in history wrecked the Visayas region in 2013, the world, let alone the country, was shocked by the devastation brought by Typhoon Haiyan, which took around 6,000 lives. In almost no time, an outpouring of humanitarian assistance arrived at the affected locations. Responding to the government’s appeal for assistance, ASEAN, the United Nations, NGOs, and donors quickly sent aid. In a matter of days, local and international volunteers flooded government and NGO offices with offers of help.

While there was no question about the number of responders and volunteers who stepped up, one question stood out: How to organise all these efforts and make the best of the responders’ expertise to effectively contribute to the national efforts?

Common Standards for Common Language

If we had a regional standard and certification system in place for disaster management, countries at risk of major disasters would be able to quickly determine the skills and expertise of incoming assisting teams. At the same time, assisting countries can mobilise the required resources faster while ensuring that the quality of responders meets the standards.

Consequently, large-scale emergency responses can be more organised. National disaster management authorities or supporting organisations in the field would be able to easily identify and verify the certified responders and volunteers. Authorities would also be able to manage the responders better since the certification proves the holder can perform a specific task at a certain quality.  

Given this, ASEAN should take the initiative to create a common set of standards along with the validation process to enhance the quality of human resources in disaster management. 

And then, when things are quiet on the disaster front, humanitarian organisations and national authorities can provide their staff with training to prepare for the next emergency using the ASEAN standards as a benchmark. Based on the competency standards, organisations can develop capacity building programme to ensure their human resources meet or even surpass regional expectations.

New Breed of Professionals

Since the Indian Ocean Tsunami, when hundreds of organisations set foot and opened many working opportunities in ASEAN countries, the disaster management sector has been continually growing and gradually shifting from volunteerism to professionalism. As a result, a disaster management role is now considered an exciting profession, creating a new breed of humanitarian workers.

A number of universities and institutions in ASEAN have also begun offering courses relevant to disaster management. In the same spirit of creating professionalism, ASEAN needs to confidently promote the establishment of common standards and credentials system that will define the difference in competency between one professional and another. Undertaking the certification process would allow humanitarian workers to support the professionalisation of this sector. In addition, providing a person with career-enhancing credentials also encourages one to continuously sharpen their skill and knowledge in their chosen disaster management profession.

Having regionally recognised competency standards and certification system can definitely help national governments and humanitarian organisations promote higher quality in humanitarian assistance. At the same time, certified competencies among different disaster management occupations would allow individuals to plan and enhance their careers as acknowledged professionals. As a result of all this, ASEAN will move one step closer to becoming a disaster-resilient community.

Written by Andrew Mardanugraha