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An accurate assessment depends on thorough planning, design and preparation. Under normal circumstances, the means of collecting the necessary data and information should be established as part of an organisation's pre-disaster planning. Planning and assessment are therefore very complementary.

Assessments enable logisticians to understand the impact of a disaster on the environment and how the impact affects the population, and how the logistics services are to be provided.

The findings from logistics assessments are critical in enabling appropriate decision making, planning and organisation for effective disaster response.  

To effectively support a response to the needs in an emergency, it is very important to include a logistics assessment during the general needs assessment exercise. Having a logistics staff on the program needs assessment team ensures that the needs are properly understood by logisticians and therefore adequately provisioned for.


An emergency logistics assessment is the process of gathering, analysing and disseminating logistics related data and information in relation to the impact of a disaster. It determines the extent of the impact (through a situational assessment) and the logistical needs (through a capacity assessment). Assessments should be continuous in nature and enable organisations to monitor changes as a response or intervention evolves.


  • Isolates the most affected areas – enable positioning of hubs, etc;
  • identifies impact on infrastructure, etc;
  • identifies most urgent needs - prioritisation;
  • defines level of response depending on complexity;
  • highlights special concerns;
  • identifies any other assessments that need to be done; and
  • provides baseline data that is used to benchmark and monitor.

Elements of an Assessment

  • Preparedness planning
  • Survey and data collection
  • Analysis and interpretation
  • Forecasting
  • Reporting
  • Monitoring and evaluation


The scope of an emergency assessment will be different depending on the circumstances and may vary from emergency to emergency or depend on the nature or scale of the disaster. This not-with-standing, there is some basic information that is important to the logistics function. That is, the number of affected population, distribution plans and nature of supplies required. For  planning purposes, additional information on the following would be useful to have:

Key considerations:

  • numbers of affected population
  • distribution plans   
  • materials required (commodities and supplies)
  • electric power, hydro facilities
  • water/sewage
  • civil aviation, airports, alternative aircraft
  • seaports  
  • railroads
  • roads and bridges
  • local trucking capacity
  • transfer points
  • communications
  • coordination capacity
  • warehousing

Planning an Assessment

“A quick response to obviously urgent needs must never be delayed because a comprehensive assessment has not yet been completed” (UNHCR hand book for emergencies). But it is importance to conduct an assessment at the earliest opportunity. The assessment outcomes facilitate planning and create a base for informed decision making. Planning an assessment involves:

  • setting the objectives of the assessment;
  • establishing terms of reference for the Logisticians;
  • selecting team members;
  • identifying and/or preparing the assessment tools;
  • mobilising resources to facilitate the assessment - staff, vehicles, cameras;
  • agreeing on reporting format; and
  • identifying users of the assessment information, for budgeting purposes, for the programme staff, donors, and for internal logistics needs to facilitate planning.

Assessment Process


Diagram 1 - adapted from UNDMTP/Disaster Assessment (1994)] - Revised

To download the diagram, 'right click' on it and then choose 'Save Image As' from the menu OR go to Annexes.

Factors to Consider when Initiating an Assessment

  • Analyse existing data. Rapidly collate and analyse already-available information. Anticipate the likely impact of the disaster and determine the areas on which information gathering should focus.
  • Prioritise the areas to be visited. Decide where to go in order to get a valid overview of the situation on the ground as well as details of the likely bottlenecks.
  • Coordinate and work with others. Form multi-disciplinary teams with government and other humanitarian organisations whenever possible. Coordinate efforts to get information from as many localities as possible as quickly as possible. Agree common definitions, methods and data collection formats, if possible, so that information from different teams will be comparable.
  • Define terms of reference and specific information needs. Define the purpose and scope of each assessment mission clearly, and specify appropriate report headings.
  • Avoid duplication. To speed up the assessment, avoid reporting on data or information that is already available.
  • Include a status report on some of the critical factors required to enable a successful response:
    • financial resources available and any restrictions or provisions pegged to it.
    • staffing - both in numbers and skills;
    • ability to collaborate with other stakeholders also conducting assessments; and
    • complexities or challenges arising due to the nature of the emergency whether a slow on-set, quick on-set or complex emergency. This determines speed of response required and therefore the type of assessment or response that will be done.
  • Select sources of information carefully to ensure that they are reliable and up-to-date.
  • Consider the accuracy: the likely margin of error in the data and its significance for the conclusions being drawn or the calculations being made. Specify ranges rather than absolute figures if data is only approximate. Be sure to highlight any information/data that may misrepresent a situation.
  • Be cautious about generalising: the situation and needs may vary considerably over short distances within the affected area and different locations.
  • Minimising bias: be sensitive to possible biases in people’s perceptions and reports (including those of the assessment team). Information for emergency assessments must come from different sources to provide a relatively accurate assessment of the situation.

Logistics Emergency Response Based on the Emergency Assessments

Note that in emergency situations, processes are intentionally shortened to speed up and facilitate immediate response to needs. As organisations respond to the initial critical emergency needs, they should conduct a logistics assessment as early as possible, before initiating and implementing a long term logistics response intervention. See Assessment Cycle above.
Inability to accurately assess the impact of a disaster, the resulting needs, and the local response capacities, would result in inadequate assistance, poor utilisation of resources and a poorly structured response.
Ideally, planning a logistics emergency response should consist of the following stages: assessing the situation, identifying the objectives, evaluating available resources, identifying intervention alternatives and implementing response plan based on the objectives and alternatives.

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