What is a focal point?

The term “focal point” is derived from the UNISDR Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and more or less commonplace in DRM policies. In a holistic approach to DRM, aspects of most local policy fields have to be aligned. DRM is not just about safety and emergency management, but it aims to “mainstream” DRM into most local policies like spatial planning, economic development, public health, environment, agriculture, transport, critical infrastructures, education, social policies, community participation and so on. In other words, the aim is to integrate relevant aspects of disaster prevention, preparedness, response and recovery in each of these sectors and to promote coherence across sectors (see: Sendai, 27a). To this end, appointing a local DRM focal point can be very useful. A focal point is as a spider in its web: he/she builds relations with all departments of the city administration as well as many local, regional and even national stakeholders. The focal points aims to integrate DRM in other policy fields and to promote coherence. It is a single point of contact on DRM for internal and external stakeholders. As each city department and each sector or external stakeholder has its own supervisors and coordination mechanisms, in most cases a focal point will have no or limited mandate for hierarchical steering. Instead, the focal point reaches out, stimulates dialogue, provides guidance and helps departments and sectors to take their own responsibility.

Alternatively, the term “local DRM coordinator” can be used. However, depending on the understanding within a city administration, a coordinator might be interpreted more as a hierarchical supervisor. Very often that is not the case for holistic DRM policies. Even in case a formal head of department (like the head of local emergency management/civil protection) is appointed in the role of DRM coordinator, it is important to realize that this hierarchical steering mandate does not automatically apply to other city departments that have an equally important role in DRM (let alone to external stakeholders). Even more so: hierarchical steering very often is not the best way to ensure DRM mainstreaming across sectors.