Preparing to Excel in Emergency Response

Amanda Schweitzer is the Emergency Capacity Strengthening Coordinator for CRS and a member of the Humanitarian Response Department. She is based in Kiev, Ukraine, and leads CRS’ localization efforts globally.  Amanda is also overall coordinator of the multi-country Preparing to Excel in Emergency Response (PEER) capacity strengthening project and provides overarching technical support to CRS’ emergency capacity strengthening programming, globally.

Across Asia and the Middle East, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is strengthening the emergency response capacity of local faith-based organizations in its Preparing to Excel in Emergency Response, or PEER, project. Given the reach of faith-based institutions in humanitarian contexts, CRS recognizes the impact of improved scale and efficiency in emergency response and the impact this has on the lives of the most vulnerable. The 3-year initiative (2016 – 2019) is partnering with 41 diverse local Christian, Muslim and Druze organizations in India, Indonesia, Lebanon and Jordan and combines critical best practices with technical expertise to professionalize knowledge, skills and attitudes of local emergency first responders.  These efforts are accomplished through: accompaniment and on-the-job support for improved operations and systems, trainings by technical experts on core emergency response modules, online resources through CRS’ Institute for Capacity Strengthening website ( and partner-to-partner learning through exchange visits and networking events.

One year after attending a series of PEER core trainings including sessions on SPHERE, emergency needs assessment and project design, monitoring and evaluation, finance and procurement, the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center (MDMC) in Indonesia, has responded to several disasters in Indonesia. Through knowledge gained during the PEER project, MDMC’s emergency response to flash floods in West Java and West Nusa Tenggara in December 2016 was quicker, more efficient and better coordinated with the local government and other key stakeholders at the City and District levels. In addition, it was the first emergency where MDMC’s local branch offices had the capacity to directly manage the response and issues related to its funding.

“Having a stronger capacity at the local level has helped to increase trust of the public and assisted MDMC in securing increased financial donations from the local and national communities. We are now receiving substantial support and new funding from within the Muhammadiyah organization (school, universities, members) but also from individuals and groups”, stated Rahmawati Hussein, MCP, Ph.D., Vice Chair of MDMC, “previously MDMC found limited capacity strengthening opportunities for faith-based organizations (FBO) that work in disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. PEER has helped to increase the capacity of the organization’s board and staff, particularly members of the Emergency Response Division, to better understand emergency management, principles of emergency response and to respond to emergencies on the ground.”

“Until now, we thought we were providing services to our community, through our youth and humanitarian aid programs, in the right way, but we were wrong!” expressed Father Wissam, President of the General Secretariat of Christian Youth in Jordan, during his participation in a PEER project training on Sphere and Core Humanitarian Standards. Following the training, Father Wissam took immediate actions to incorporate the new learning into their programing, holding meetings with the organization’s Board members and Heads of Programs to identify ways of including sector specific Sphere standards into their activities. “Even though we are not presently working in an emergency context, by practicing these standards in our current activities, we will be able to use them easily and systematically when an emergency does occur.

PEER aims to improve humanitarian response in the field through institutional strengthening of local faith institutions (LFIs), learning about the most effective approaches to strengthen institutional capacity and engaging with non-PEER programs and organizations working on institutional strengthening. As the project moves into its second year and a half of implementation, the team has identified several lessons which will enhance ongoing and future capacity strengthening initiatives:

  • Build in time to build TRUST – healthy/strong partnerships are built from an initial level of trust and understanding between participating organizations – it is critical to build time into the beginning of your capacity strengthening project to foster positive relationships.
  • Accompaniment MUST follow trainings – the majority of individuals retain a maximum of 20% of information received during a formal training. Regular follow-up after trainings through one-to-one coaching is a critical component of knowledge retention.
  • Organizational NOT individual capacity strengthening action plans – to foster sustainable capacity strengthening more attention should be placed on overarching organizational capacity building efforts instead of individual staff development; one way to sharpen this focus is through development of organizational action plans.
  • Support of executive leadership – if the executive leadership of an organization is actively on-board with capacity strengthening initiatives, these efforts will reap greater and longer lasting results. This should include leadership’s participation in trainings, accompaniment activities, etc.
  • Identify common needs – when working with a diverse group of local faith institutions within the same capacity strengthening project, special care should be taken to identify common needs around which all can be brought together.
  • The right people at the right trainings – to enhance overall organizational development, it is critical that the right staff members attend trainings appropriate to their roles/responsibilities within the organization.

For more information about the PEER project and CRS’ partnership approach you can download the CRS webinar entitled, “CRS’ Partnership and Capacity Strengthening Principles, Approaches and Tools” which can be accessed via the following link.  To learn more about CRS’ Institute for Capacity Strengthening visit its website:

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