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Published: October 3, 2022

Effective Security in Emergencies: responding to the Pakistan floods

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Recent flooding has devastated Pakistan, leaving up to a third of the country underwater and millions impacted. As climate change induces more and more extreme weather events across the globe, organisations find themselves frequently preparing emergency responses, each with new security challenges. In this blog, ShelterBox’s Tim Law reflects on how his organisation rapidly prepared to respond to the flooding in Pakistan and what he has learned about effective security planning in rapid onset emergencies.

Just before the August bank holiday weekend, I learned from our lead for disaster monitoring that ShelterBox might consider a response to the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan. Previously, we had sent a scoping team at very short notice to Poland to assess the needs of people affected by the quickly unfolding process in Ukraine. Then, we had anticipated the requirement and started the security planning process immediately. This time, though, I decided to wait. I was more practised in the role, and we had introduced a new and better security planning system with which I was very familiar. It felt OK to wait until later to start building the plan.

However, our duty operations coordinator got in touch on Saturday evening to say we would almost certainly deploy a team and that I needed to start building the plan.

Building the plan

It is a ShelterBox protocol that it should be the people likely to travel that evaluate the risk involved in doing so. If travellers themselves build the security plan for their deployment, we have found they are more responsive to the mitigations needed to reduce the likelihood of risks coming to fruition and more able to reduce the impact if they do. People-centred security planning is also a key concept in our new format for security risk evaluation, which requires us to attach as great a significance to the characteristics of those travelling as we do to the environment in which they will operate. We do not always know, however, which staff members and volunteers are immediately available for an emergency response.

On this occasion, a bank holiday weekend, it was a case of pushing every available shoulder to the wheel. I rose at 6 a.m. to get the ball rolling, knowing that my mind is always most lucid first thing in the morning. I produced most of the preparatory work required by 10 a.m. and sent it to our emergency coordinator and the staff member most likely to deploy. After discussing what was needed, the latter completed the rest of the planning process. I merged the work that evening and early the following day, creating a comprehensive plan that would be easily refinable as new team members came on board.

Operationally, Pakistan presents a range of challenges. The scale of flooding and the potential for further rain was a concern but the principal issues were those relating to the risk from crime, ideological extremism, and transportation. ShelterBox’s operating model is unusual in that it has only one country office – in the Philippines. Its strength lies in rapid response to emergencies, access to unrestricted funds, and an ability to draw on highly specialised employees and volunteers who are well-practised in planning and delivering emergency relief. The lack of in-country expertise is mitigated through a global partnership with Rotary International, giving worldwide access to senior influencers, and GISF and International SOS membership. However, that mitigation and the work we do in the relative comfort of our headquarters in Truro can take us only so far. We rely on a broad network of contacts to inform our assessments and to give insight when creating mitigations. Although the tragic flooding, which had placed much of the country under water, added significant complications, a breadth of experience travelling to similar locations enabled us to plan and move quickly.

Over the following days, we built the team, sought visas, booked travel, drew communications (and other specialist) equipment from the stores, and developed the security plan to incorporate consular information and national travel advice for the multi-national initial deploying party. We checked and double-checked insurance provisions and spoke with partner organisations to improve our contextual awareness. By Wednesday evening, we were ready for our pre-deployment briefing and ‘bad luck’ session, where we ran through various plausible scenarios to ensure that the team was prepared for most eventualities. They were technically ready to deploy within five days of a Cornish summer bank holiday weekend.

Effective security planning for emergency response

Ukraine was our first major short-notice deployment this year. Pakistan is our second. We have honed our skills to provide our teams with the best quality security advice available to us. With a system for dynamic risk assessment and delegated approval authority also in place, we can confidently remotely manage this deployment with minimal fuss, such that the team can start to plan and deliver the aid so evidently needed.

Throughout our existence, ShelterBox has developed a strong capacity for merging 24/7 environmental monitoring with highly responsive security planning and deployment preparation to enable us to overcome the challenges of having little permanent global presence. Although our monitoring takes account of geopolitical events, such as those which led to the mass evacuations from Ukraine earlier in the year, it continues to focus on our core skill of monitoring for disasters. With climate change at the forefront of our minds and much evidence that non-standard weather events could create even more significant challenges in the future, we will continue to evolve our practices and protocols so that we remain able to react as quickly as is practicable in future.


About the Author

Tim Law is safety and security adviser at international disaster relief NGO ShelterBox, a post he has held for just shy of a year.  He had previously worked for over thirty years in the government and military sectors, concluding a career in the British armed forces as the United Kingdom’s defence attaché in Beijing.  He is also the director of recreational cricket on his county cricket board.


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