GEOG 858
Spatial Data Science for Emergency Management

Emerging Theme: Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chains


This week’s emerging theme is focused on an age-old problem, how to get things from point A to point B. The importance of logistics and supply chains in emergency management cannot be overstated. It is a topic that intersects all phases of emergency management but is perhaps most important in the preparation stage. In this section, I’ll provide a bit of background, then you will look at a few videos, agency presentations, and short readings. We’ll end with a consideration of cutting-edge trends in the field that are having or have the potential for big impacts. Finally, you will take what you've learned into a discussion forum and bounce ideas off your classmates. I have also provided some links to optional reading if you want to learn more about this topic. 

Background on Logistics and Supply Chains

We will begin with some quick background information about disaster and humanitarian logistics. The first video provides an overview description of what humanitarian logistics is all about. Then there are two videos that show what this looks like on the ground during some recent disasters. Finally, a news article explores what can go wrong if one part of the supply chain is disrupted - blue tarps!

Watch: The Logistics Cluster in 2:30 Minutes

The Logistics Cluster in 2 Minutes
Click here for a transcript of the Logistics Cluster video.


PRESENTER: When an emergency strikes, there are certain items vital for survival, such as food, water, shelter, and medicine, which need to reach the affected population fast. However, this is never as simple as A, B, C.

Despite the challenges, humanitarians are always present when an emergency arises. Coordination is essential in complex environments like these. The Logistics Cluster is a group of organizations working together to improve the logistics response in emergencies.

The World Food Program was chosen as the lead agency for this cluster due to its expertise in the field of humanitarian logistics. Logistics is a basic and fundamental need for any operation, the backbone of any task, big or small. For humanitarians, it's about getting lifesaving supplies from A to B.

Let's take an example. This organization has come to bring medical supplies to these families. These supplies need to be transported now, but local truck drivers have fled the area, remaining vehicles have already been taken, and fuel has run out. To make matters worse, heavy rain and landslides have made the roads inaccessible, borders are closed due to ongoing conflicts, and ships cannot enter the port.

The organization's lifesaving cargo will have to stay here for now, but where will they store it and how can they quickly inform other organizations about these constraints? Where our partners need it, the logistics cluster provides transport of emergency items by road, air, sea, and river. We facilitate storage space for vital cargo. Where fuel is unavailable, we distribute it. We collect and share vital information to help the humanitarian community make informed decisions. And finally, we offer coordination to hundreds of humanitarian actors, for it's only through working together that the humanitarian community can effectively and efficiently respond to need. Through timely and reliable logistics service support, information, and coordination, the Logistics Cluster ensures the humanitarian community has the ability to save lives.


Credit: Logistics Cluster

For further reading (optional)

  • Logistics Cluster Website
  • Emergency Supply Chain Training Slides by World Food Programme. You can find the slides in Lesson 4 of Canvas.

Private Sector Response in Puerto Rico

Watch: Crowley and FEMA Accelerate Relief Aid to Puerto Rico (1:18 minutes)

Crowley and FEMA Accelerate Relief Aid to Puerto Rico
Click here for a transcript of the Crowley and FEMA Accelerate Relief Aid to Puerto Rico video.

KENNETH ORBEN: Well, right now, you're seeing the loading of the barge La Princessa. We started loading this last night at 5:00. So here we are at 8 or 9 o'clock the following morning. We're just finishing it up.

The barge is filled with relief goods. That's containerized cargo, trailers of water, rolling stock, all in support of the relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Crowley's very flexible, and we were able to switch gears right after the hurricane hit and from a primarily commercial operation to supporting the government operation down there and the relief effort.

So we've been working every day since the hurricane hit. Besides the barge you see behind us today, we worked another barge at the JAXPORT terminal. That one will be sailing at noontime today. So we worked two barges simultaneously, and we'll have five more barges working over the next five days, all primarily with relief goods to support the efforts in Puerto Rico.

We all have friends, and there's lots of family in Puerto Rico. So many of our employees here in Jacksonville are putting in the extra effort to support their families in Puerto Rico. So it's really a Herculean effort on the part of everyone here, from the top down. And we really do appreciate everyone's efforts.

Credit: Crowley Maritime

Defense Logistics Agency Response to Maria and Sandy

Watch: Logistics On Location: Supporting Hurricane Maria (2:56 minutes)

Logistics On Location: Supporting Hurricane Maria (Open Caption)
Click here for a transcript of the Logistics on Location: Supporting Hurrican Maria video.

JOHN CUNNINGHAM: Hurricane Maria was a huge storm, and it came right through the island. FEMA asked the Corps of Engineers to come in and help restore power for the people of Puerto Rico. One of our key partners in that is Defense Logistics Agency. And we're all here for the same purpose, which is to turn the lights on here.

JOHN FINCHEN: The Generator Mission is to lease and/or rent generators. It's a stopgap measure to get people back up and running on their power grid.

TRAVIS MILLER: So the Emergency Power Mission, what we do is we maintain critical facilities. So we keep the infrastructure up, including hospitals, fire departments, police stations, water treatment plants-- lift stations.

LUCIANO SAN VERA: So the biggest challenges, as you can see from the map, number one, is probably the terrain. The other challenge is the aging infrastructure. Parts of it are over 50, 60 years old. It wasn't maintained very well.

TRAVIS MILLER: When you have a mission of this magnitude, DLA comes in and provides us rental generators to help supplement the FEMA-owned generators.

CHRIS DRESEL: FEMA has in its inventory several hundred organically owned generators, specifically slated for disaster response efforts. However, when we cannot meet the needs of the facility, FEMA looks to outside agencies. And we have primarily DLA as our first source to provide those additional generators. DLA has provided over 1,130 generators to support the efforts here on Puerto Rico and the region.

LUCIANO SAN VERA: There's a lot of specialty materials that are only used here in Puerto Rico. They didn't have much of the inventory before the storm actually hit. And with that, we're competing with disasters in Texas, California, and Florida. So everybody's competing for these same materials.

JOHN FINCHEN: So DLA is the primary for the poles, the wires, and all the hardware that goes together to create those circuits so that we can fall back and get rid of the generators and go back to Puerto Rico's main infrastructure. It's all coming across in barges or other means of transportation.

RHONDA MUSTAFAA: So Defense Logistics Agency is a wonderful partner. I can't imagine trying to order $192 million of materials with over 442 lines independently.

NANCY CHURCH: The partnership that we have established prior to this and during this event I think is very instrumental and will be lessons learned that we will be able to carry with us far forward into future response missions.

JOHN FINCHEN: Success for DLA is USACE's success. When USACE can get a circuit energized and see house lights go on or other grid functions operate, we've done our job to help USACE do their job.

TRAVIS MILLER: We all have to work together because no one agency has all the resources to tackle an emergency like this and a disaster like this.

Credit: Defense Logistics Agency

When supply chains break down: Where are the blue tarps?

Read: Puerto Rico: urgently needed tarps delayed by failed $30m FEMA Contract from The Guardian

Geospatial Approaches

Next, let's consider some of the ways geospatial approaches are used in humanitarian logistics and supply chains. Start by reviewing what Esri is doing by watching the following short video, visiting and reviewing the Logistics Planning Website and trying out the Logistics Planning App. After you finish looking at these resources, contrast this work with what Google is doing in this space by looking at their Google Maps Platform: Transportation Website.

Esri Logistics Planning Tools

Watch: Watch this 3:33 minute demonstration video and then explore the live app on the Esri website

Logistics Planning
Click here for a transcript of the Logistics Planning video.

PRESENTER: The Logistics Planning application enables emergency response staff to plan logistical operations, manage resource requests, and identify impediments to delivering resources during an incident. This application can be used on its own or in combination with the Situational Awareness Suite and is a configuration of ArcGIS Web App Builder that uses your common operational data to enable you to plan response activities.

When first accessing Logistics Planning, you're presented with staging and points of distribution or pod locations. Commodity staging areas are typically preplanned and located at warehouses that can store lots of supplies and have access for trucks to drop off and pick up.

We can also see our pod locations. These are locations where the public can come to retrieve supplies. Information presented in the pop-up tells us the capacity of this location, including how many cars can be served and what the availability of each type of resource is per day.

Additionally, I have other information that may support me in making decisions regarding the logistics of a response, such as the locations of other established emergency facilities and current information on road closures.

Within the application, I have tools that help me with planning. To get started, I'll click to open the Situation Awareness widget. I have a couple of options for defining my incident boundary. I can either draw on the map using the tools in the widget or select an existing feature and set it as my incident location.

From here, I can use the tabs in the widget to get more information. First, I can determine the impact of the population in this area and therefore, about how many people may need to be supported with these resources.

Next, I can summarize the total capacity for each of the points of distribution. In the distribution capacity tab, I'm presented with the total number of cars that can be serviced each day along with the number of water bottles, meals, ice, and so on.

Lastly, I can identify which staging areas are inside my incident boundary. I do have one staging area and a couple of backups on the outside.

The Logistics Planning application also allows me to evaluate the burn rate of the commodities at each of the pod locations. Using the charts widget, I can visualize the total planned car capacity in blue and the actual cars served in orange. It looks like the King's Grant Elementary School has exceeded its planned capacity, so I know I need to send more supplies.

To assist the drivers, I can use the directions tool to calculate turn by turn instructions that I can then print and send with the truck drivers to help them route between staging areas and pod locations. To do this, I'll simply select my starting location at the staging area and the King's Grant point of distribution location, and the route is calculated for me.

If necessary, I may decide to establish a new pod to help with demand. To do this, I can use the Edit tools to locate a new distribution point. I'll start by using the search tool to find the Larkspur Middle School, then choose the pod template from the Edit tool and create a new pod in the map. Then, I'll populate its attributes. To learn more and configure the Logistics Planning application for your organization, please visit the solution site. Thanks for watching.

Credit: Esri

What's next with logistics?

We’ll end with a consideration of some of the cutting-edge trends in logistics R&D and practice that are having or have the potential for big impacts on humanitarian and disaster operations. 

DHL is one of the major world logistics companies and they produce an annual tech trend assessment for their industry. I'd like you to consider how they characterize the current state of the art and how that is changing rapidly due to developments in technology and operational models. Start with the video and then move on to the report linked below. 

Watch: DHL Data Analytics video (1:27 minutes)

This short video and industry report were developed by the commercial logistics company DHL. It provides some useful insights into where the industry is heading and how new technologies are shaking things up. When you watch this, think about what you read and watched previously and consider how these ideas may or may not match up, particularly in the emergency management context.

DHL Data Analytics (click image)

Credit: DHL

Review: Logistics Trend Radar Industry Report (also found in Lesson 4 of Canvas)


  1. Post a comment in the Emerging Theme Discussion (L4) forum that addresses the following prompts:
    • Comment on a significant way you think commercial and disaster/humanitarian logistics differ.
    • How might one of the emerging trends in logistics benefit disaster/humanitarian logistics, e.g., Uberisation of logistics?
  2. The initial post should be completed during the first 5 days of the lesson.
  3. Then, I'd like you to offer additional insights, critiques, a counter-example, or something else constructive in response to your colleagues on three of the following 5 days.
  4. Brownie points for linking to other technology demos, pictures, blog posts, etc., that you've found to enrich your posts.
    NOTE: Respond to this assignment in the Emerging Theme Discussion (L4) forum by the date indicated on the course calendar.

Grading Criteria

This discussion will be graded out of 15 points.

Please see the Discussion Expectations and Grading page under the Orientation and Course Resources module for details.