Are your deployees prepared? – Open source surge competencies training available now!

25 March 2018

This article was prepared by Anna Kirsch (ActionAid) and Laura Purves (CAFOD)

Since the publication of the 2007 Review of Surge Capacity, the humanitarian sector has increasingly recognised the importance of collaborative and localised approaches to surge. Capacity of surge staff plays a crucial role in this. Yet all too often, the pressure to recruit staff quickly can result in agencies overlooking the skills and trainings required to effectively and efficiently respond to the needs of affected communities.

Go Team Asia regional roster training. Photo © Transforming Surge Capacity Project

The Transforming Surge Capacity (TSC) project[1] (2015-2018) explored some of the challenges and opportunities of ‘surge’ capacity building in more detail. A Surge Training Survey and Mapping Report (CAFOD 2015) highlighted that surge-specific training, in particular (as opposed to humanitarian training more broadly), was not common in 2015, and where it existed it was often neither mandatory nor standardised. While 80% of respondents to the survey – which gathered the insights of 59 surge professionals of different background and across 19 agencies – had received some humanitarian training prior to a surge deployment, the latter was often focussed mainly on their technical specialism, with little attention being paid to the development of ‘softer’/behavioural skills such as cultural sensitivity, effective communication, team management or wellbeing and mindfulness.

To address the above gap in surge-specific training, 11 agencies came together to develop a set of training modules on surge capacity and behaviours. The result of a 3-year collaborative design, development and testing process involving surge professionals from different backgrounds, and led by training specialists from CAFOD, is a people-centred training curriculum for surge staff across the world. Based less on technical skills and more on behavioural competencies, the unique Transforming Surge Competencies Training Programme is formed of 9 interlocking modules, including an Introduction to the Humanitarian Sector (e-learning), as well as face to face trainings on Culture and Diversity, Women’s Rights in Emergencies, Wellbeing, and others more.

Go Team Asia regional roster training. Photo © Transforming Surge Capacity Project

The modules have been used to train roster members from across the TSC project’s Philippines, Pakistan and Asia Regional Platforms, including through simulation exercises, one-to-one coaching and Training of Trainers (ToT). Five agencies (Islamic Relief, Christian Aid, Plan International, Muslim Aid and CARE) have incorporated selected modules into their own internal training packages.

“The surge competencies training has increased my ability to work effectively with people from different cultures, contexts and/or religions”  – Philippines Training Participant

“Health and psychological wellbeing are key to avoid responders (…) returning from their deployment mentally scarred. There are things [that] I think should be mandatory, such as psychosocial briefings and debriefs in general.” – Sumant Kumar, Plan International

“The training has helped me gain a better understanding of what it means to work in an emergency situation, as well as a better awareness of my own limits and the importance of mindfulness”. – Philippines Training Participant 


Philippines Roster members holding their diplomas after completing a Surge Competencies Training session. Photo © Christian Aid

The project has highlighted the need for trainings across the humanitarian sector to better reflect surge-specific ‘soft’/behavioural skills (i.e. on codes of conduct, wellbeing or communicating with culturally diverse communities). As the ambitious goal of behavioural change can only be achieved through collaboration and inter-agency exchange, the training modules developed by the TSC project have now been made available on the humanitarian learning platform Kaya. Presented as comprehensive open source training materials, they can be used as a package to deliver a full 5-day face-to-face training, or as stand-alone modules to be integrated into existing plans. All materials have been designed for flexible delivery and can be downloaded and adapted to specific contexts and/or agencies, as well as to groups of trainees with varying levels of surge expertise.

“The training modules cover every aspect of a deployment; what to do and how to prepare before you go, during deployment and post-deployment. Once Disaster Response Team members have completed the 8 modules, they will be better prepared to undertake an effective deployment and make a positive contribution to their team.” – Islamic Relief

Find out more

For more information on the TSC surge competencies training modules, please visit the project’s Kaya portal, or contact the CAFOD training leads on

If you would like to know more about the quality, relevance and inclusivity of the surge training modules developed as part of the TSC project, please consult the related case study here (© CAFOD).

For a detailed account of all key surge capacity building activities carried out under the umbrella of the Transforming Surge Capacity project, please consult section 6.4 on “Capacity Building For Surge” of the Future of Humanitarian Surge report.

[1] Launched in 2015 and financed by the UK government as part of DFID’s DEPP, TSC aims to 1) strengthen national and regional surge systems (in the Philippines, Pakistan and the Asia region); 2) help local organisations build their surge capacity by collaborating with other humanitarian actors; and 3) bring UN, private and academic stakeholders on-board to explore how they can help respond to the needs of disaster-affected populations. Led by ActionAid, the project is backed by Action Against Hunger, CAFOD, CARE, Christian Aid, International Medical Corps (IMC), Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Plan International, Save the Children and Tearfund, and two technical partners (the CHS Alliance and the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities Network (CDAC)).