Typhoon Haiyan left a trail of disaster in the Phillippines. Food, water and medicine started to slowly pour into the island nation, but with no real way to ensure they reached the neediest victims.
Even six days after the storm, most citizens in Tacloban, a city of 220,000 that was hit hard, had not received any aid. While there were plenty of supplies to go around, the lack of vehicles, fuel and manpower prevented victims from receiving much needed aid. In short, there was a lack of logistics.
While natural disasters can strike at any time and their actual intensity can vary greatly from predictions, one thing is certain—having emergency resources in place before a disaster occurs would aid the flow of resources.
Anna Campbell, a professor of management services in the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, is an expert in transportation logistics and focuses on finding more efficient methods for government, agencies and businesses to transport relief supplies to areas affected by disasters.
She specializes in vehicle routing, using mathematical modeling and computing to develop quick, efficient routes. However, few transportation logistics problems are as challenging as disaster logistics, which delve into the unknown.
“Commercial supply chains are focused on quality and profitability. Humanitarian supply chains are focused on minimizing loss of life and suffering, and distribution is focused on equity and fairness much more than in commercial applications,” said Campbell.
When dealing with a disaster situation, Campbell tries to give drivers a recommended path with back-up options. Between poor road conditions and blockages, and the lack of cell phones, planning disaster relief routes is no easy task.
However, going back to the importance of having resources before the disaster occurs, the resources need to be in the right place. Campbell is studying where to locate pre-positioned supply depots in advance of a storm. If they are too close to the coast, supplies could get destroyed by the storm, but if they are too far away, it takes too long to get supplies to people in need.
While the logistics of a disaster will never be as fine-tuned as those in an e-commerce supply chain, preparing as much as possible before the storm and creating multiple route options can help provide relief to those in need as quickly as possible.