How can social protection systems be used in disasters, as a complement to, or substitute for, humanitarian assistance? Oxford Policy Management (OPM) led a two-year research project investigating this question, looking at the role of social protection in both mitigating the impact of large-scale shocks and supporting households after a crisis hits. We identify factors that can help and hinder effective disaster response, and consider how social protection actors collaborate with others working in humanitarian assistance and disaster risk management (DRM). We present findings from fieldwork in Pakistan, conducted between December 2015 and January 2017. We focus on lessons from cash-based responses to disasters implemented mainly as standalone initiatives or through the DRM system, and on the potential for leveraging some core systems and operational mechanisms of the country’s national social assistance programme – the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) – to contribute to shock-responsive social protection.