Thursday, January 14, 2010

Humanitarian Logistics, Fragile Networks, and the Crisis in Haiti

The calamitous earthquake in Haiti is now resulting in a humanitarian emergency of immense proportions. Those of us who work and conduct research in logistics are eyeing the evolving events in real-time. Many of the frustrations lie in not being able to apply best practices when already fragile networks are further disrupted because of chaotic events.

As academics, we can do much regarding capturing the state-of-the-art of humanitarian logistics knowledge so that when crises occur, even of monumental proportions, they can be put to use. For example, collaboration amongst organizations is key, which we are not seeing (yet) in Haiti. Also, centralization is essential for assessment and information capture and dissemination. In Port-au-Prince, the network infrastructure has been decimated from the roads and electric power lines to the hospitals, schools, homes, and even government offices. The problems now are ones of transportation and logistics and in supplying the victims with their critical need products from food, clean water, to medicine.

What we can also offer is a readily-accessible forum and venue that contains collections of lessons learned from past disasters, including Katrina. Towards that end, I am providing related links to talks on Hurricane Katrina, Fragile Networks, and other related topics here.

In addition, a website devoted to humanitarian logistics, which contains numerous presentations and documentation can be found on the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Humanitarian Logistics site that I developed for the conference that I organized at the center. There you will also find information on our Fragile Networks book, which contains information on supply chains in humanitarian operations and the synergies associated with collaboration. In addition, Dr. Cosmas Zavazava, one of the participants in this conference, who is Chief of the Division of Emergency Communications, at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva, Switzerland, is helping to coordinate the communications in Haiti. He had previously coordinated the telecommunications after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar/Burma. His presentation on the critical importance of telecommunications during and post disasters is also posted on the link above.

Today, we completed a paper on the evaluation of supply chain network performance under a spectrum of disruptions as are occurring in Haiti. If we cannot physically be there to help, we, nevertheless, have to assist in whichever way that we can.

Our Fragile Networks book (in a rather freaky coincidence) has been listed as an interesting new book by MCEER, a center which focuses on earthquake engineering to extreme events.