I was absolutely stunned when the news of the earthquake in Chile appeared on CNN. Coming on the heels of a similar disaster in Haiti, I could not help but think about (a) the importance of transportation and logistics to a disaster relief effort and (b) how difficult it is to plan for an event everyone hopes will never happen.
The response by nations around the world to the plight in Haiti was immediate but disorganized. No agency from the Haitian government was able to take control, and the infrastructure was shattered, so there was simply no way to coordinate the arrival of goods and air workers into the country, let alone move them around once they got there. As a result, the goods pipeline quickly clogged until US military forces arrived and brought order to the chaos. Unfortunately, they couldn't do much to overcome the lack of roads, damaged bridges, and wreckage that combined to impede the onward movement of help to those in need. In one important way, things look similar in Chile: the transportation infrastructure is in a shambles. Pictures show broken bridges, collapsed roads and massive fields of debris filling rights-of-way. How does any nation plan for such a contingency?
Indeed, the US is not immune to disasters of a similar magnitude or to complaints of slow response in their aftermath. However, the question is the same: how can a government plan for the unthinkable? One answer was presented at last year's Forum in the session titled National Disaster Logistics Supply Chain Coordination. The synopsis of that session was presented in the last issue of the Journal and is partially summarized here Briefly, in the event of a natural disaster, the federal government (through FEMA and GSA), the DOD (US-NORTHCOM, DLA, and the Army Corps of Engineers), and relevant private sector representatives, will partner to provide a coordinated response overseen by a National Logistics Coordinator representing both FEMA and GSA. The intent is that this be a bottom-up system with local requests flowing in to the joint response center from the state(s) affected; the federal response must then follow within 24...