Monitoring the effectiveness of disaster response

About monitoring response  

After a disaster occurs is an overwhelming time when many different stakeholders may show up and respond. There can be few opportunities to stop and reflect on the process and how it best served survivors. Monitoring is an opportunity to oversee and evaluate the effectiveness of the response. It can be used by anyone participating or witnessing the response. Government officials working on the response typically produce an “After-Action Report” that documents how the response went. Having additional people contribute to this report or offer other analyses of the response can give a complete picture of what happened or didn’t happen. 

Impact on frontline communities  

Having frontline community’s perspective on the disaster response is important to ensure they are better served in future disasters.  For example, responses can be slow to reach frontline communities, and official sources may not capture this delay. Ensuring that multiple groups monitor the response with this in mind is key to ensuring gaps and disparities are documented and shared with officials.  

Methods of monitoring response  

There are a few primary tools for monitoring the response’s effectiveness at reaching frontline communities, including making observations and conducting interviews. Monitoring can be challenging as people are enduring a traumatic experience. Be mindful of this and consider engaging experts trained in communicating with people during a traumatic event to advise and/or help you implement your monitoring activities. Additionally, when interviewing frontline communities, it’s helpful to involve people who hold pre-existing relationships in those communities. Community-based organizations are a great resource for seeking help with this process.  

Example questions in monitoring response 

There are many types of questions that you might ask to understand the effectiveness of the response. A few examples are below, but make sure to adjust this based on community context and input from community experts in the area. 

Disaster declaration 

  • Are there areas that were severely impacted that were not included in the disaster declaration? If so, which areas? 

Ensuring availability of services 

  • What is the availability and accessibility of services? Were any important services missing?  

Ensuring equitable distribution of services 

  • Are there areas or communities that are not receiving services or attention?  

Adapting for special accommodations 

  • Are there accommodations for people with special needs or special circumstances, including seniors, people with mobility needs, people with disabilities, people who are incarcerated, people who are LGBTQ+, people who are undocumented, immigrants, and people with special language access issues, etc.? 

Deployment of services 

  •  Did the service provider adopt a cultural humility approach that provided assurances and safety and demonstrated trust to survivors? Read about cultural humility

Evacuation procedure 

  • What was the experience of households/communities confronted with evacuation? What was the notification system? Were support and facilitation adequate? Were people notified in a timely fashion of how they should evacuate? Did people have adequate help in being evacuated? Have incarcerated persons been evacuated?  

Experience in rescue operations  

  • What was the experience of communities with rescue operations? Was there preference given to certain communities/ households/families as rescues occurred? Describe any discrepancies. 

Supporting people who are undocumented 

  • Are authorities criminally targeting undocumented persons? Are undocumented persons seeking services?  

  • Was there sufficient language translation available for those that don’t speak English as a primary language?  

  • Did individuals feel comfortable seeking services?  

Engaging workers’ protections 

  • What are the measures for workers’ protection and upholding worker rights, particularly for prison labor that is often used in disaster circumstances?  


  • Describe the policing in the area during the emergency. What are the policing priorities and emphases?  Are certain groups more heavily policed?  

  • What are the policing practices (i.e., the militarization of police,  etc.)? 


  • What accommodations are made for animals and pets? Is this sufficient? Is it offered equally across communities? 

Actions to take  

For community-based organizations and affordable housing providers 

  • Create a protocol so that you can be prepared to understand how the disaster response is or is not meeting the needs of your community.  

  • If you have conducted disaster response monitoring, connect with your local Office of Emergency Services and discuss how you can share this information with them to improve future response processes. 

For local government 

  • Seek out the help of trained counselors to assist with collecting information about the response. 

  • Work with community-based organizations to learn from their perspective on the response. 

  • When completing analyses of the response, be sure to include how it did or did not serve frontline communities.  

For philanthropy 

  • Connect with your grantees in areas impacted by disaster and learn about the effectiveness of the response. Document what you hear and share it with the local Office of Emergency Services.  Use what you learn to reflect on and adjust your own grant-making processes, especially if some of the monitoring speaks directly to your philanthropic activities.   

  • Offer to support local government and community-based organizations in documenting the state of the response with the support of trained counselors. Support can include translation of services, caseworkers, administrative help, and training first responders on cultural sensitivity and humility. 

Credit: This guidance draws heavily from the NAACP’s In the Eye of the Storm: A People’s Guide to Transforming Crisis & Advancing Equity in the Disaster Continuum.