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Hurricane Irma caused plenty of damage, that much is true, but it’s nothing compared to what she would have done to the southeastern coast of the United States if she had hit with full force. Luckily, she slowed from a Category 5 down to a 3 or 2 before hitting the bulk of land in her path. Puerto Rico and the islands, unfortunately, were not so fortuitous. It brings to light just how badly disasters can set us back. More importantly, it highlights the incredibly complex and yet necessary disaster logistics required to help clean up and support communities after major disasters.

How do we deal with flooding, while also delivering supplies to those in affected areas? How do we handle massive blackouts as a community, and get the grid back up and running as quickly as possible? What about water, food, supplies and even first aid? What about the debris and damage to public property? What about the immediate need for fuel? During Irma, for instance, people were rushing to the pumps and nearly every gas station in the Florida was running low on gasoline.

There’s a lot more to it than that, though. Transporting hazardous chemicals in the wake of a disaster is also a concern. Dumping or eliminating waste and debris produced during the event is another. In the case of flooding, what about homes and buildings ruined by water seeping in?

Of course, the modern supply chain ties into all of this, as well. Food, water, fuel — it all ends up scarce just before and after a major event. Disaster Logistics is also about the management of those supplies going in and out of affected areas. There are some things you can do to improve a plan already in place, such as designating a point person or team, relying on partners and remaining flexible. The key is to have a disaster logistics and emergency plan already in place. It does no good to establish one during or after the fact.

Food and Supplies

We cannot survive long without clean, fresh water and food. The problem is, before and during a disaster, people make a rush to local stores and empty the shelves. Bottled water and nonperishables can even become a commodity during these instances, and price gouging can end up being a serious issue.

It’s crucial to get food, water, medical supplies and additional resources to those in need, as fast as possible. This is the time when strong supply chain partnerships and relationships come in handy. As long as the environment is gain-sharing in nature, alternate parties and partners have a responsibility to offer assistance.

How can they help? They can ramp up their own production efforts and assist with yours. They can find suitable transportation and employ aid from their own disaster logistics service providers. They can even reroute or direct shipments, boost capacity and much more.

Extraneous Materials and Cleanup

One of the most important aspects of disaster recovery is the cleanup and maintenance in the aftermath. A hurricane, for example, can be responsible for downed trees and debris, malfunctioning power equipment, fallen wires, broken public property and even severe environmental damage. Flooding would be a great example of this, ruining many homes and buildings, and causing debris and materials to float and move about freely.

Then, of course, there’s the facilitation of hazardous chemicals before, during and after the disaster. When an event is impending or strikes, regular duties don’t just go on hold. A good way to prepare is to research and deploy suitable vessels for the storage, retrieval and transport of these chemicals or substances.

The timely removal and handling of all these elements is crucial to getting the community and local economy back on track. The longer things remain inoperational, the resulting cost continues to rise. Dealing with these sorts of things calls for on-the-fly decisions and reactive measures. You can put a plan in place and train for years, but still run into a wall when it’s time to put everything into play. Why? Because things don’t always happen as we expected or planned. Debris can damage or destroy items and elements we never expected them to, such as a generator for backup power.

The best way to deal with it is to remain flexible and ready to adapt.


Although you may not have any involvement with fuel or the handling of it, we can look to its history in times like these. During Irma, gas stations and fuel depots across the southeastern states quickly ran out of supplies. People rushed to the pumps to fill their vehicles or extra canisters for generators, and many others evacuated their homes, resulting in the increased demand for fuel.

This puts an emphasis on supply chain and partner transparency. Response and communication between parties must not only be prompt and concise, but they must also be accurate. Real-time tracking information for supply trucks and transport vehicles is also necessary. Partners can monitor where a backup supply is, and or how far away it is. This allows them to plan accordingly, even cutting back on the consumption of their own goods in the meantime.

It’s also a good indication of just how much supply-and-demand patterns can change during a disaster. A good disaster logistics plan accounts for these shifts and adjusts accordingly, whether that’s boosting manpower, speeding up production and/or transportation or even limiting distribution elsewhere.

An explosion and major fire at a chemical plant in Mari, Germany, in 2012 had sweeping repercussions for the global market. That particular plant was responsible for producing a majority of a type of resin necessary for auto manufacturing. It’s easy to think that only a small area will be impacted, but the reality is that in most cases, everyone will be. That’s why it’s important to plan for these contingencies and prepare for ever-changing supply and demand.