Emergency Response Units (ERUs): Types

The different types of ERU

An Emergency Response Unit (ERU) is a standardized package of highly qualified and trained personnel and equipment ready to be deployed in a disaster at short notice. ERUs can be called upon in emergency situations, when local facilities are unable to cope and when the Federation delegation or the Red Cross or Red Crescent Society in the country concerned cannot respond alone. Different types of ERU are deployed depending on the function required. These include logistics, relief, information technology and telecommunications, water and sanitation, basic health care and referral hospital.

Emergency Response Units (ERUs) are one of the International Federation’s disaster response tools. They are composed of trained and skilled personnel and modules of equipment that can be deployed in a situation that requires a rapid response. ERUs provide specific support or a direct service when local facilities are either destroyed, overwhelmed by needs or do not exist.

They are used in emergency situations to fill a gap until the function is no longer required or until the Federation delegation and/or the National Society can take over. The units are fully self-sufficient for one month and can be deployed for up to four months.

Different types of ERU are available, depending on the function needed:

Basic health care ERU

Provides immediate curative and preventive health care for up to 30,000 beneficiaries, according to WHO basic protocols. The unit can provide basic outpatient services, maternal-child health (including uncomplicated deliveries), community health outreach, immunization and nutritional surveillance. It does not function as a hospital but has a 20 overnight bed capacity for observation only. This ERU requires a safe and sufficient water supply (5 litres per outpatient per day, plus extra for cleaning, etc.) If it were to function as a therapeutic feeding or cholera treatment centre, the water usage rate would be significantly higher. It has a mechanism for referral of more serious cases to hospital.

Basic health care ERUs are on standby in Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway and Spain. Australian, Canadian, Swiss and Chinese Red Cross Hong Kong branch provide staff.

Logistics ERU

Coordinates and provides immediate support to the incoming relief supply line, including customs clearance, warehousing, transportation and support to other ERUs. The unit also tracks all incoming relief goods that are on the International Federation’s “mobilization table”.

Logistics ERUs are on standby in the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Spain and Switzerland.

Water and sanitation ERU

There are three modules available according to water volume and quality required and to beneficiary numbers and locations. WHO Drinking Water Guidelines and Sphere standards guide the modules’ work:

  • Water and sanitation module 15 - Designed to provide treatment and distribution of water up to 225,000 litres a day for a population of 15,000 people, with a storage capacity of a maximum of 200,000 litres a day. This unit can also provide basic sanitation for up to 5,000 people. The module is designed for response to scattered populations, with a flexible approach due to a number of smaller treatment units, which can be split and set up as stand-alone units in different locations. The availability of local water sources is required. Integrated in the water and sanitation module 15 is distribution and trucking capacity for transport of treated water to dispersed populations, capacity of up to 75,000 litres a day, with possibility to set up nine different storage and distribution points. The Austrian, German and Spanish Red Cross have this module.

  • Water and sanitation module 40 - Prepared to provide treatment and distribution of water for larger populations, can treat up to 600,000 litres a day for a population of up to 40,000 people. This unit requires the availability of a suitable local surface water supply. Integrated in the water and sanitation module 40 is distribution and trucking capacity, for transport of treated water to dispersed populations, capacity of up to 75,000 litres a day, with possibility to set up nine different storage and distribution points (preconditions are availability of flat-bed trucks, fuel, road access). The Austrian, French, German and Swedish Red Cross have this module.

  • Mass Sanitation module 20 - Aims to provide basic sanitation facilities (latrines, vector control and solid waste disposal) for up to 20,000 beneficiaries as well as to initiate hygiene & health promotion programmes. Austrian, British, German, Spanish and Swedish Red Cross have this ERU module, which was fully revised and upgraded in 2006.

On standby in Germany, Sweden, Austria, Spain and France. The Red Cross of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia provides staff to the Austrian Red Cross.

Referral hospital ERU

Serves as a first-level referral hospital, providing essential surgical and medical care for up to 250,000 people. The inpatient capacity is 120–150 beds, and services include an operating theatre, intensive observation, anaesthesia, X-ray, laboratory, maternal-child health, pharmacy, sterilization and outpatient clinics. The unit requires a sufficient water supply (40–60 litres per patient per day, plus extra for washing, laundry, cleaning, etc.) It also needs local health and support service staff and interpreters, plus a sufficiently large surface area with good road access. For larger populations, it is possible to combine two existing referral hospital ERUs to increase the operating capacity. In addition, a modular Rapid Deployment Hospital has been established, consisting of two 4x4 Land Cruisers and trailers. This module, containing all the necessary medical and logistics supplies to cover the crucial first ten days after a disaster can call on other hospital ERUs to expand the operation as necessary. The unit can also be converted for community outreach.

Referral hopital ERUs are on standby in Germany, Norway and Finland. Canadian and Icelandic Red Cross provide staff.

IT & telecommunications ERU

Re-establishes local communications networks and connects the field and the Federation Secretariat in Geneva to ensure the smooth flow of information and to assist in operational coordination. The unit employs a range of technology, from satellite phone systems to high-frequency and very-high-frequency radio systems, depending on geographical location and local regulations and restrictions.

Telecommunications ERUs are on standby in Austria, Denmark and Spain.

Relief ERU

Supports the National Society in the country concerned in carrying out relief assessments and targeted beneficiary selection and assists in setting up relief distributions and compiling relief-distribution statistics. The unit can also help set up camps and works closely with the logistics ERU.

This type of ERU is currently provided by the American, Danish, Spanish and the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg) Red Cross National Societies.

Base camp

The Base Camp provides Red Cross Red Crescent staff (both host National Society and Federation staff) engaged in emergency operations with appropriate living and working conditions. The Base Camp offers tented accommodation, conditioned for hot and cold climates, toilets, hot showers, recreational facilities, a kitchen, offices, administrative, IT/communication and coordination facilities in locations where these are not available for Red Cross Red Crescent staff. It comes with it own staff and deploys like an ERU.

Base Camp are provided by Danish Red Cross and Italian Red Cross.

National Societies maintaining ERUs

The National Societies that currently have ERUs available for rapid deployment include those of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. When deployed, they remain the property of the National Society concerned. In addition to the above mentioned National Societies that have full ERUs available, a number of others offer ERU trained staff for joint deployments. Those are Australian, Canadian, Chinese - Hong Kong branch, Croatian, Icelandic, Macedonian and Swiss Red Cross.

National Societies maintaining full ERUs IT & telecom Water & sanitation (module 15) Water & sanitation (module 40) Water & sanitation (module 20) Field hospital Rapid deployment hospital Basic health care Logistics Relief Base camp
Austria X X X X
BeNeLux* X
Denmark X X X X
Finland X X X X X
France X X X X X
Germany X X X X X X
Italy X
Japan X
Norway X X X
Spain X X X X X X
Sweden X X
Switzerland X
United Kingdom X X
TOTAL 4 4 4 5 3 3 6 6 6 2

Note: BeNeLux = Belgian Red Cross, Netherlands Red Cross and Luxembourg Red Cross.

Find out more

Documents available:

  • ERUs deployment from March 1996 to date.

  • Frequent Asked Questions (FAQs).

  • Emergency response unit 2008 | in Arabic | en español | en français

  • Slide show of Swedish Red Cross water and sanitation module 4O ERU deployed in Philipines (July 2008) | PDF document, 40 pages, 4.9Mb

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