Disaster Logistics

Disaster Logistics

11/17/2021 - 16:24

During a calm, summer night on the 8th of August 2017, 25 people lost their lives and more than 60 000 were left without any source of electricity. An earthquake with a magnitude 7.0 struck the Zhangzha Town in Jiuzhaigou County, China. As a consequence, around 1 883 landslides were triggered, making the access to the region extremely difficult. How did people react to the situation and what was the vital role that disaster logistics played when saving hundreds of lives?
Logistics NL
  • Student work

This article was written by Amy van Baalen as part of the course Professional Writing and Communication 1 during academic year 2019 - 2020

Focus of Disaster Logistics
There are certain events that cannot be forecasted or predicted. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and fires are difficult to foresee and even man-made ones such as terrorist attacks are also sudden and, in most cases, unexpected.

The uncertainty and suddenness of such events created the need of fast response and quick organization of funds, means and people in order to potentially save hundreds and (Emergency Logistics: MSF Me, n.d.) thousands of threatened lives. This is how disaster or emergency logistics came into being.

It is essentially “a special logistics activity that urgently guarantees the demand for materials, personnel and funds in response to emergencies such as serious natural disasters, sudden public health events, public security incidents and military conflicts.” (Zenan Zhou, 2019)

The challenges that disaster logistics has to face are numerous and the difficulty of the execution of each operation is unknown beforehand. Accessing regions with landslides, damaged infrastructure and collapsed buildings are all part of disaster logistics.

Coordinating people and means and aiming at reducing waste are some of the core objectives which disaster logistics has to bear in mind. (Xiufeng Zuo, 2009). Unlike conventional logistics, disaster logistics is not an economic activity, it is rather a social public service that does not aim to maximize profits and savings, but to be beneficial for the people.

Disaster Logistics in Action
In other words, the suddenness of the events comes from the fact that it is unknown when a disaster would happen, whereas the uncertainty is due to the unknown longevity of the event. Despite the fact that modern technology gives us a bit of an insight as to how strong a natural occurrence could be, the actual impact that it has can never be predicted.

Such is the case with, for example, earthquakes. Depending on their magnitude and the specifications of the affected region, the consequences could be thousands of lost lives.

History remembers several such earthquakes. The disaster in Haiti in 2010 took over 300 000 victims and the earthquake in Indonesia in 2004 with over 200 000 lost lives. During both of those disasters a great humanitarian support was needed and an incredible organization of resources. If it had not been for disaster logistics and the fast emergency response it has, probably even more lives would have been lost.

The Organization of Disaster Logistics Around the World
In general, each country has a specific protocol and organization when it comes to emergency logistics. Some governments, such as the US, relies on coordination on a more central level whereas the responsibility lies within the hands of the regional governance. The Netherlands operate more or less based on the same model, the only difference being that a special committee is established when a disaster occurs.

The Chinese government, on the other hand, does not have a refined system yet. So, in the particular case of the Jiuzhaigou earthquake that happened on the 8th of August 2017, the government was not fully ready to meet the disaster and the severe consequences that came with it.

Reaction After the Jiuzhaigou Earthquake
Consequently, after the terrible disaster occurred, the Chinese government had the important and vital task to use all available resources in order to establish some kind of order in the rescue operations. The number of affected people were more the 176 000, with 24 confirmed victims, six lost people and around 73 000 damaged houses. Due to the severity of the earthquake, the transportation had to be managed and monitored and certain roads had to be closed for the public.

Reaching victims in affected areas was a priority and an extremely difficult task. Providing goods which were needed immediately is also part of the emergency logistics sector.

The problems which the government met were all coming from the fact that there is a lack of a centralized body that is responsible for the logistics when unforeseen events happen. The flow of information is distorted, the costs for services and goods are extremely high and the supply of products comes from all places. The centralization of the organization of emergency logistics has to be a priority for every country in order to ensure the well-being of sometimes thousands of people. (Xiufeng Zuo, 2009)

Organizational Problems for China
As a result, the problems that China faced in the particular case could have been avoided. As said before, unification of the process for disaster relief is one
option. Sourcing the needed goods from various places and storing them in crucial points around the country is also a cost- and time-effective strategy.

The information flow has to be finetuned and the use of modern technology can benefit greatly the disaster logistics operations. An example is a GPS system that monitors the flow of goods and therefore the even distribution of products that could be lifesaving.

As can be seen, disaster logistics is a little-known field of expertise that can save the lives of hundreds and thousands of people. The importance of information and goods flow, of finetuning every process, express decision-making and securing affected areas is unimaginable. The importance of this type of logistics comes from the fact that human lives are at stake and the severe consequences can lead to a years long recovery process. Therefore, disaster logistics aim at centralized process and optimal preparation, providing shelter and help to the ones that are most in need.

- Xiufeng Zuo, Q. R. (2009). Understainding Complex Systems.Berlin: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.
- Zenan Zhou, Y. J. (2019). Application of Intelligent Systems in Multi-modal Information Analytics. (p. 780). Cham: Springer Nature Switzerland AG.
- Bull/AP, G. (n.d.). Event: Britannica. Retrieved from Britannica Web Site: https://www.britannica.com/event/2010-Haiti-earthquake
- Emergency Logistics: MSF Me. (n.d.). Retrieved from MSF Me Web Site: https://www.msfme.org/emergency-logistics
- Projects: ARUP. (n.d.). Retrieved from ARUP Web Site: https://www.arup.com/projects/regional-humanitarian-logistics-hub