What is humanitarian security risk management?

Humanitarian security risk management allows greater access to and impact for crisis-affected populations through the protection of aid workers, programmes, and organisations.

Security is freedom from risk or harm resulting from intentional acts, such as violence. Aid workers, programmes, and organisations as a whole face varying levels of risk in carrying out their work globally. Organisations, therefore, must put in place security risk management practices that enable them to effectively reach those most in need while still meeting their duty of care obligations towards staff.

At its heart, humanitarian security risk management is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

It is a set of tools that aim to support organisations in continuing to carry out their work while putting in place safeguards that ensure that the organisation’s most important assets – their people – are not unduly placed at risk.

ISO 31000 defines risk as the effect of uncertainty on objectives. Therefore, security risk management is about enabling organisations to meet their objectives.

Security risk management is not about being risk averse but about managing risk.

The inability to reach affected populations due to insecurity is a risk in itself that needs to be managed.

Effective security risk management starts with well-designed humanitarian programmes, good leadership, strong personal and organisational resilience, and effective communication.

To better understand how to effectively manage security in a humanitarian context, it is helpful to consider the different elements of a security risk management framework (see diagram below from EISF Security Risk Management: a basic guide for smaller NGOs).


From governance and operations to travel management and effectiveness monitoring, security risk management is part of an organisation’s broader operations and programming.

Rather than a process of its own, security risk management is a lens through which to understand how risk can affect programmes and staff throughout the project cycle, and means identifying ways to mitigate against identified risks.

Security risk management is not an add-on but an integral part of programme management.

Key aspects of good security risk management include:

  • Understanding security risk management is first and foremost a tool to enable access to and impact for crisis-affected populations.
  • Using security risk management as a tool to support decision-makers.
  • Developing a proactive approach to identify, assess and mitigate risks.
  • Taking an inclusive approach and drawing on the expertise and experience of internal and external stakeholders in a particular context to understand and manage risk.

The following documents are useful resources for further information on humanitarian security risk management: