Emergency Managers: Time to Think In Terms of Supply Chain Management


Hurricane Sandy. The Alabama tornados. Japan’s tsunami. On and on, natural disasters seem to come at a greater clip than ever, and some besieged emergency managers are shifting from reactive to proactive by re-envisioning disaster recovery as supply chain management.

Charlotte Franklin, deputy coordinator of emergency management for Arlington County, Va., wrote recently on the website Emergency Management that, effectively, officials must quit flying by the seat of their pants and set up systems that give them top-to-bottom visibility of supply chains well before disaster strikes.

By seeing disaster recovery as a supply chain issue, she wrote, “emergency managers and communities are more effectively and efficiently positioned to handle a crisis before an incident occurs.”

“Another reason for this view is that it will open up opportunities to find solutions that allow for faster, more efficient delivery of critical supplies once an incident happens,” she wrote.

Franklin notes that it’s too late to plan when an emergency happens, so managers should identify and mitigate supply chain management problems before a crisis. By focusing on redundancy and methods for real-time communications and interface, planners have a better chance of keeping supplies moving in a crisis.

An expansion of the Public Recovery Resource Access Portal, which provides public health resources, is one tool. But state and local governments also need innovative software solutions to effectively confront regional emergency coordination.

Modern technology enables both better government now and a 360-degree visibility when public safety is on the line, with quick access to accurate, real-time data that could mitigate loss of life or property. Systems give emergency managers – and also police, fire and other commanders – information on skills, training, organizational structures and resource availability. The data can be seamlessly integrated with finance, logistics, procurement and tasking functions.

Putting such a supply chain management system in place before crisis strikes can bring efficiency and cost savings to day-in, day-out government. For example, the procurement of city assets gets streamlined – and more accountable, by the way – in an automated environment. Government officials also will have better data to maintain assets, for example when a street sign, light pole or police car needs to be replaced.

But the big payoff in automating the coordination of government services comes when crisis strikes. With fixed asset management, the location and disposition of all available resources is known immediately so they can quickly be tracked be moved into position. If everything is tied together properly, there will be real-time data on warehouse management – think gasoline, water and food supply information.

As always, real-time knowledge and visibility is the key to managing a crisis, and that kind of intelligence is hard to assemble without some forethought.

“Until now, pre-event recovery resource planning has been mostly about inventory and warehousing,” Franklin wrote. “But with an emergency, knowing precisely what will be needed where, in what quantity and by whom, can’t be predicted. Focusing on the supply chain redundancy, as well as real-time communication and interface, can provide a more effective way to get critical supplies quickly after an incident.”

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