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Volume 32, Issue 2

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Tuesday, 30 April 2019 14:48

FEMA Supply Chain Resilience Guide

Strategic Overview

Disasters disrupt preexisting networks of demand and supply. Quickly reestablishing flows of water, food, pharmaceuticals, medical goods, fuel, and other crucial commodities is almost always in the immediate interest of survivors and longer-term recovery.

When there has been catastrophic damage to critical infrastructure, such as the electrical grid and telecommunications systems, there will be an urgent need to resume—and possibly redirect— preexisting flows of life-preserving resources. In the case of densely populated places, when survivors number in the hundreds of thousands, only preexisting sources of supply have enough volume and potential flow to fulfill demand.

During the disasters in Japan (2011) and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico (2017), sources of supply remained sufficient to fulfill survivor needs. But the loss of critical infrastructure, the surge in demand, and limited distribution capabilities (e.g., trucks, truckers, loading locations, and more) seriously complicated existing distribution capacity. If emergency managers can develop an understanding of fundamental network behaviors, they can help avoid unintentionally suppressing supply chain resilience, with the ultimate goal of ensuring emergency managers “do no harm” to surviving capacity.

Delayed and uneven delivery can prompt consumer uncertainty that increases demand and further challenges delivery capabilities. On the worst days, involving large populations of survivors, emergency management can actively facilitate the maximum possible flow of preexisting sources of supply: public water systems; commercial water/beverage bottlers; food, pharmaceutical, and medical goods distributors; fuel providers; and others. To do this effectively requires a level of network understanding and a set of relationships that must be cultivated prior to the extreme event. Ideally, key private and public stakeholders will conceive, test, and refine strategic concepts and operational preparedness through recurring workshops and tabletop exercises. When possible, mitigation measures will be pre-loaded. In this way, private-public and private-private relationships are reinforced through practical problem solving.

Contemporary supply chains share important functional characteristics, but risk and resilience are generally anchored in local-to-regional conditions. What best advances supply chain resilience in Miami will probably share strategic similarities with Seattle, but will be highly differentiated in terms of operations and who is involved.

In recent years the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have engaged with state, local, tribal and territorial partners, private sector, civic sector, and the academic community in a series of innovative interactions to enhance supply chain resilience. This guide reflects the issues explored and the lessons (still being) learned from this process. The guide is designed to help emergency managers at every level think through the challenge and opportunity presented by supply chain resilience. Specific suggestions are made related to research, outreach, and action.