Technology, Disaster Relief and Supply Chain Disruption

Benefits of technology for disaster relief response

Disaster Relief and Recovery

As the world has seen with Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida, Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, Hurricane Maria throughout Puerto Rico and the Caribbean and the devastating recent earthquake in Mexico City, devastating natural disasters can debilitate huge sections of the population and result in significant supply chain disruption.

Disaster relief organizations such as the Red Cross and more than one federal agency are consumed with their efforts in providing emergency management and disaster assistance for the survivors of devastating natural disasters.  From advanced search and rescue operations to coordinating life-sustaining emergency supplies for survivors, the task of providing disaster relief to get these populations on the road to recovery can be overwhelming. In times of disaster, emergency response and disaster recovery teams need to be able to operate quickly and efficiently to provide vital life-saving aid to affected populations. Following disasters, getting supplies to affected areas as quickly as possible is imperative.  Fast deliveries of goods helps to restore a sense of normalcy to communities and enables the recovery process to begin and take hold.

How Technology Can Help Disaster Relief Efforts

Information technology tools and systems can play an important role in the disaster assistance and recovery process.  In incidents of catastrophic damage, supply chain resiliency can be tested but careful planning can help to forestall massive impact.

Critical infrastructure in the affected areas may be damaged, limiting the use of roads, bridges, railways and other modes of transportation. In addition, transportation service supplier disruption may occur due to inability of the respective workforce to reach work destinations or access assets.  This makes coordination, routing and transportation logistics planning tricky.

Vital to the recovery effort, organizations struggle to handle shipment coordination, recovery and transportation of assets including disaster relief equipment such as generators, bulldozers, back hoes, light towers, temporary shelters and other equipment.  Critical supplies such as food and medicines, ice, water, ready-to-eat meals and other life-sustaining and safety goods must reach affected populations of survivors of the natural disaster. How does all this happen?  In addition to federal government agencies such as FEMA and charitable organizations such as the American Red Cross, non-governmental organizations (NGO), disaster recovery companies and 3PLs mobilize behind the scenes to provide life-sustaining goods and move assets to help jumpstart search and rescue and recovery operations.

Having access to and use of automated data collection technology and critical information technology systems can speed up the process of getting the right goods to the right locations at the right time.  Using barcodes, mobile computers and barcode scanners helps to streamline the process of data collection.  This reduces processing time and improves the accuracy of the information needed by all parties.

Data is collected and transmitted for use in vital systems that can be shared from organization to organization or to various agencies. 

By having all this information at their fingertips, supply chain analysts can help to streamline the efficiency of goods and assets-exactly where they need to be to save lives and safeguard property. Unpredictable circumstances can cause chaos and disruption to lives and critical systems.  Addressing unpredictable demand requires that organizations have as much information their disposable as possible, especially real-time data.  Preparation is critical.  Enabling access to communication helps recovery and relief efforts so that all groups can work together seamlessly towards the common goal.

Case Study:  How Home Depot Prepares for Hurricanes

For companies that support emergency response and disaster relief and recovery, information is an especially powerful tool. The home improvement industry, for example must be ready to respond immediately following a major weather event or natural disaster.

To help stage goods prior to a foreseeable event, organizations rely on supply chain risk management software.  Home Depot, for example, relies on a forecasting system which tracks major weather events including hurricanes, thunderstorms and tornadoes.  To ensure that goods can reach impacted destinations as quickly as possible, Home Depot strategically positions products in key locations away from but close to impacted areas.
Because hurricanes can typically be projected approximately a week before landfall, organizations have some lead time to plan, coordinate and stage goods to arrive both before and after the weather event.  In the case of hurricanes, Home Depot ships goods that are most likely to be in immediate demand a week or so before hurricanes make landfall.  Goods such as batteries, flashlights, gas cans, plywood and water are items that fly off store shelves when populations are anticipating hurricanes to strike.

Approximately 72 to 96 hours before a hurricane is anticipated to strike, Home Depot activates its command center.  This includes retail store operations, inventory planning, merchandising, replenishment, and supply chain personnel.  Within the command center, carriers are assigned their own room so that they can determine how they will mobilize supplies to the affected areas.

Pre-positioned loads are moved closer to the anticipated impact area, but remain a safe distance away to safeguard both drivers and goods.  Shortly after or slightly before impact, depending upon the situation and distance, trucks loaded with goods are moved to the impact zone so that the goods will be immediately available when stores can be re-opened.

Following the natural disaster, Home Depot follows a post-strike strategy and continues to ship larger supplies of specific goods to stores in the impacted area typically for a period of six weeks or for as long as the demand warrants this.

The process is similar for unforeseen disasters but occurs over an abbreviated time frame.  Information access and close coordination are critical to making sure that the needed amount of the necessary goods are ready and transported to the needed locations.


Help Avoid Supply Chain Disruption Using Technology

Managing risk and lessening the impact of disruption is challenging.  Disruptions risks can cost lives and result in life-altering damage to property.  To be effective, supply chain businesses within the network need to “speak the same language” and communicate swiftly and seamlessly.  Forecasting, inventory management, transportation and logistics and inventory control functionality are all key functions to make sure that core goods reach their destinations as quickly as possible to help ensure safety of people and property.

Scheduling, coordinating and staging mass-scale deployments following natural disasters requires top notch communication and real time information visibility.  Using technology can help streamline operations, aid with supply management and ensure that all parties concerned have real time accurate information whenever needed.

Another issue with managing disaster relief operations involves thinking through each challenge carefully and planning in depth.  Planning for what happens beyond the immediate need is essential.  Take for example, what happens if a devastated Caribbean island needs portable toilets for nearly its entire population.  Shipping the correct quantity of portable toilets to an island nation to service every person and pet is just the beginning of the logistic challenge.

The next phase of this challenge comes if the portable toilets require assembly. Planning for the assembly, staging and transportation of the portable toilets solves the immediate problem yet there is another significant issue.

What happens when they are filled to capacity and there is no working sewage system on the island?  Dealing with disaster relief and recovery on an island can be enormously challenging.  Solving these problems takes critical thinking and skilled logisticians.

Here are Three Ways that Technology can Aid in Improving Response for Disaster Relief Efforts:
  • Demand Analysis.  Utilize Big Data to model demand using historical data from ERP, WMS and other supply chain management systems and incorporate the most likely scenarios.
  • Inventory control/inventory management:  In order to ensure adequate inventory levels during the uncertainty of natural disasters and other calamities, rely on warehouse management software.  Pre-position inventory in locations close to the potentially affected areas.  Make sure you have access to a WMS that provides enterprise-wide visibility for full inventory management capabilities across all facilities where goods are stored, even if in a third party logistics warehouse or distribution center.
  • Continual communication of real time information:  Relying on industrial grade rugged mobile computers can empower field workers, disaster relief agencies and private organizations to share vital information in real time and aid in making better quality decisions.  This can help get goods and assets to the required location much faster and reduce the burden on labor.  In addition, using mobile computers can help document claims, damage and human safety issues through photographs and video.  Mobile computers typically include GPS tracking, a great safety feature for pinpointing and communicating information about affected areas in times of crises.

Why Use Handheld Mobile Computers for Disaster Relief?

Using handheld mobile computers improves the speed and accuracy of data collection and reporting when conducting damage assessments.  This helps to streamline communications by enabling real time access to critical information whenever needed.

In disaster relief, speed counts. Being able to capture and transmit accurate information so that needed goods and assistance can be arranged can alleviate suffering and help prevent additional damage.

More Information Here

Impact of Hurricanes on the Supply Chain Network

Personal and business insurance providers, get ready.  According to a leading provider of information intelligence, CoreLogic, over 6.6 million homes on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts are at risk of hurricane storm surge inundation.  The total reconstruction cost value (RCV) for these homes is nearly $1.5 trillion.

Because of their locations on or near the coast, ports and warehouses tend to be particularly vulnerable to the storm surge caused by hurricanes.Transportation infrastructure including roads, railways, bridges, airports and other elements are often damaged during hurricanes, especially those with major storm surge events.  The ability to move goods can be dramatically impacted by damage to transportation infrastructure, causing significant supply chain disruption.

Take for example, the impact of Hurricane Harvey on Houston, one of the most important economic centers in the United States. 

With Port Arthur completely under water and regional railways and highways shut down, FedEx, UPS and USPS have had to suspend all deliveries to affected areas throughout Louisiana and Texas.  The largest chemical and petroleum companies in Houston had strategically calculated their workarounds prior to the storm.


Natural Disasters, Unforeseen Events and Supply Chain Risk Management

Today, companies collect and analyze huge volumes of data (known as “Big Data”) in order to minimize risk to the supply chain.  Supply chain risk modeling derives insight from these massive datasets and incorporates mixtures of multi-dimensional variables.  Governmental entities such as the federal agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been amassing historical data on a wide array of catastrophic events that can damage people and property including hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, storm surge and river flooding.

The field of information technology and computing power have advanced significantly in recent years.  Using the historical data and massive computing power, these agencies are now better able to analyze and gain insight from this data and use it to forecast, make more informed decisions, plan and communicate information to consumers and businesses. This can help improve overall safety, decrease financial loss and help with contingency planning to minimize supply chain risk.

Managing supply chain risk means closing the gaps in the collection and management of supply chain data. To do this, it is necessary to develop and implement a supplier “data standard”.  

This houses information about each supplier’s facilities, products, historical disruptions and other data.  The information is then combined with data from ERP and other operations and supply chain management systems.  Next, the data is assimilated and used to identify inherent vulnerabilities in a supply chain network.  Utilizing data in this manner helps to detect correlations between past events and supply chain disruptions.  This can be key in identifying network deficiencies as well as critical suppliers.

According to supply chain analysts, mitigating operational risk and potential supply chain disruption depends upon use of information.  Some organizations combine their existing data from multiple systems with advanced supply chain risk modeling tools.  This helps to create best-in-class supply chain risk mitigation.  This information can then be used to identify the potential drivers of supply chain failure before any supply chain disruption ever occurs.

Sharing information about supply chain risk and potential supply chain and logistics disruption can help organizations to behave pro-actively and even collaboratively.  By providing increased information visibility and transparency within supply chain networks, the risk of disruption can potentially be minimized.  Contingency planning can be undertaken across supply chain networks, reducing operational risk and workarounds to disruptions can be determined in advance when lead time is available.

American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN)

To Help Survivors of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, we suggest contacting the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN).  Founded by numerous professional and trade associations who collaborated to assist with humanitarian relief after Hurricane Katrina, ALAN is comprised of hundreds of supply chain businesses, ready to respond following natural disasters.  These companies are experts in transportation and logistics, warehousing, cold storage and distribution and excel and locating and moving goods to affected areas efficiently.

ALAN promotes targeted donations then responds to specific requests for help from those in affected areas.  This enables ALAN to ensure that the goods and services that are most critically needed reach those when and wherever they are.  ALAN fulfills a vital role in the community.  By bridging the gap between businesses, volunteer organizations and relief agencies, they are able to put their real world supply chain and logistics capabilities to work for the good of affected communities.  This reduces duplication of effort and waste and expedites much needed help to those who need it.

To donate to the American Logistics Aid Network, you can provide an ongoing monthly gift, donate an unused gift card balance, send a check or make a one time gift.

If your organization or business would like to help disaster relief by becoming a sponsor of ALAN, please contact the organization.  Multiple sponsorship levels are available.

To volunteer for the American Logistics Aid Network, please visit their website for announcements regarding urgent needs.

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