This Is How Disaster Logistics Work

This Is How Disaster Logistics Work

It seems like every few months we see a large amount of images on the news of disasters happening all over the world, and we come together in support of those who have been struck by calamity. Disasters hit us when we least expect it and that is why the importance of emergency management is so high. It is often that we hear that the response by agencies is less than great. People always complain over how long it takes responders to reach the areas that need it most and how supplies seem to get lost in transit.

People often wonder what happens to their donations and why it seems that even when the world is all pitching in to help in any way they can, those who need the aid seem to continue suffering. The world of disaster logistics can be quite mysterious to some people since it is something that highly depends on the circumstances and that everyone wants to avoid having to exercise. Weather conditions are fickle and things may take a turn for the worst when you least expected, much of what can be done hinges on properly responding to situations that are never constant and that can continue to change as they develop. That being said, it is a known fact that massive losses of life and unnecessary destruction can be avoided when foresight and strategic planning are added into the mix.

Today in David Kiger’s Blog we want to talk about how disaster logistics work and clear up some of the terms that are associated with this extremely specific and specialized supply chain and its management.

The word “disaster” is usually used to refer to a situation that disrupts the normal functioning of a community and that brings forth a negative impact upon its people. Disasters can be caused by naturally occurring events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, drought or famine; but they can also be the consequence of man-made actions like in the case of terrorist attacks, wars, chemical and nuclear leaks and political or refugee crisis. It is within the nature of a disaster, that it occurs with some degree of surprise and swiftness, something that makes it much more difficult to deal with. In the United States, the official definition of disaster comes from the Stafford Act, a legislation that authorizes the federal government to provide assistance with disasters to different states and local governments; here it is defined as such:

“Any natural catastrophe (including hurricane, tornado, storm, high water, winddriven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm or drought), or, regardless of cause, any fire, flood or explosion, in any part of the United States, which in the determination of the President causes damage of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant major disaster assistance under this Act to supplement the efforts and available resources of States, local governments, and disaster relief organizations, in alleviating the damage, loss, hardship, or suffering caused thereby.”  This means that what determines the disaster has more to do with the availability of resources in a community and their ability to cope with the situation than the name of the condition itself.

Disaster management or emergency management is the discipline centered in the avoidance of risks and the dealing with such risks as they occur. While disasters are absolutely impossible to avoid, it is possible to prepare to best of your ability in order to respond to disasters when they happen.

As we know with any type of supply chain, preparedness comes as a consequence of a great deal of research and the mapping of plans filled with contingencies and backup possibilities in order to properly react to the unexpected.

Image courtesy of Matthias Zomer at

The related activities that are associated with emergency plans are classified in four phases: preparedness, response, recovery and lastly mitigation. Preparedness, as we know, happens before disaster strikes and it is primarily responsible for analyzing data and making decisions that will somewhat soften the blow of a possible disaster. Sadly preparedness never seems to be enough, since disasters have a tendency to do away with sensibilities and strike without mercy.

Response is crucial to reduce the loss of life and curve the damage that comes from a direct disaster.  The problem with Response is that it affects the supply chain in ways that simply cannot be prevented in most cases, for example when roads are rendered useless and transportation for relief supplies and emergency personnel becomes impossible.

Recovery usually allows for the logistic efforts to become stronger and shine where they were unable to produce results in earlier stages. The road to recovery is long and it usually encompasses many different aspects dealing with the destruction of infrastructure and the relocation of people to their places of residence or temporary shelters for the time being. The cycle goes back around to mitigation, where once again efforts are made to try to stop disasters from happening again, or at least to learn from the mistakes made and be better prepared than before.

* Featured Image courtesy of Pixabay at

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