3. Standards for assessment

In an emergency context, assessment is a continuous process that may be repeated many times with varying levels of depth and different focus areas. It starts at the preparedness stage with the collection of pre-disaster information (identification of stand-by assessment team, training of team on the assessment tools and techniques, collection of secondary data, gender in brief, etc.). Ongoing assessments help to ensure that responses remain appropriate and relevant as the situation changes. See annex xxx which presents the various types of assessments during the different phases of an emergency. The Assessment Framework (IASC guidelines) distinguishes between:

  • Initial assessments carried during Phase 1 (first 72 hours). Rapid assessments carried out during Phase 2 (first and second week).
  • In-depth assessments carried out during Phase 3 (3rd and 4th week).
  • In-depth assessments, including on recovery needs, carried out during Phase 4 (5th week and onwards).

The data sources in assessments evolve over time: from mostly secondary data and direct observation / remote sensing in the initial phase, with limited participation / feedback of affected communities, to mostly primary data sources in the next phases.

Typically, an initial assessment should be conducted as soon as possible after identifying the emergency (within 24-72 hours of a rapid-onset emergency). This assessment may lead to immediate implementation of response activities, followed by more detailed or sector-specific assessment as time goes on (rapid, and then in-depth sectoral assessments). In the initial phase of an emergency, speed is usually more important than attention to detail. An initial assessment should be well organised, but should not be slowed down or hindered by the need to get everything right at first. The precision and accuracy of assessments evolve with time, going from quick and exploratory to comprehensive and confirmatory (see Annex xx). Assessments should aim to take a ‘good-enough approach‘ while addressing basic standards in 3.1 below.

Assessments provide an understanding of the disaster situation and a clear analysis of threats to life, dignity, health and livelihoods to determine-in consultation with the relevant authorities-whether an external response is required and, if so, the nature of the response.

The Sphere Core Standard 3 (Assessment) states that “The priority needs of the disaster-affected population are identified through a systematic assessment of the context, risks to life with dignity and the capacity of the affected people and relevant authorities to respond.”


  • Information is gathered using standardised procedures and made available for transparent decision-making.
  • The assessment considers all technical sectors (water and sanitation, nutrition, food, shelter, health) and the physical, social, economic and security environment.
  • The assessment includes questions that will inform the design of mechanisms for the Accountability to Affected People (AAP)
  • Through consultation, the assessment takes into account the responses of the local and national authorities, and other actors and agencies.
  • Whenever feasible, data is aggregated by sex and by age.
  • Local capacities and strategies to cope with the disaster, both those of the affected population and the surrounding population are identified.
  • The assessment includes an analysis of the operating environment, including factors affecting the personal safety and security of the affected population, and of humanitarian staff.
  • Estimates of population numbers are cross-checked and validated with as many sources as possible, and the basis for the estimate is made known.
  • Assessment findings are made available to other sectors, national and local authorities, and representatives of the affected population. Recommendations are made on the need for external assistance, and on appropriate responses that should be linked with exit or transition strategies.

Source: Sphere handbook .

for AAP related questions: REACH/IASC menu of AAP questions

  • An assessment is only a snapshot in time.
  • Information changes over time.
  • The significance of information changes over time.
  • If a disaster manager can identify the unfolding scenarios, monitoring will ultimately be more important than assessment.
  • What you cannot see is often more important than what you can see.
  • It is vital to use the first assessment to establish an ongoing data collection and analysis system.
  • Most reports should be iterative, not detailed.
  • The initial assessment should provide information that feeds directly into the programme planning process.
  • Timing of the report is vital. Without a point of reference, most assessment data is of little value.

Source: Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance 2005. Field operations guide for disaster assessment and response .

Assessments can place a burden on the disaster-affected communities and infrastructure, or can even make them more vulnerable in conflict situations if they are poorly coordinated among the many humanitarian agencies conducting assessments. The following do’s and don’ts can help avoid negative impacts. 

3.3.1 Accountability do’s and don’ts for assessments


  • Take a good enough approach.
  • Be prepared to introduce CARE as an organisation and describe our mandate and objectives (refer to The good enough guide , Tool 1).
  • Involve women and men affected by the disaster.
  • Ensure assessment team is gender balanced as much as possible.
  • Provide appropriate assistance at the same time as assessing wherever possible.
  • Consider joint assessments when appropriate.
  • Share assessment objectives, plans and results with the community, and clearly communicate the organisation’s mandate.
  • Coordinate assessments, and share plans and results, with other agencies and local authorities wherever possible.
  • Ensure the assessment adequately analyses gender, violence, discrimination, protection and ‘do no harm’.


  • Duplicate the work of other agencies and contribute to assessment overload.
  • Put communities or staff at unnecessary risk.
  • Continue assessing without providing assistance, if assistance is urgent and is able to be provided.
  • Be a humanitarian tourist (visiting and observing with no purpose or assistance)
  • Make promises that cannot be kept.