The Road To Recovery

Workers faced with challenges around disaster relief logistics

Many of those who have survived the hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires that have devastated different parts of the world in recent months now face the challenge of picking up the pieces of their lives and rebuilding.

To help, supplies and donations have poured in to those communities affected by the hurricanes that hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, for example, and emergency and relief workers have been trying to quickly organize and distribute the donated goods to those affected by the natural disasters.

But disaster recovery systems can quickly become overburdened by inventory that can clutter or distract from the real work that must get done. In other (quality) words, it’s sometimes a struggle to get the right things to the right people at the right time.

In Puerto Rico, already dealing with a devastated economy and dated infrastructure before Hurricane Maria hit, responders were initially faced with a serious supply chain breakdown: Thousands of crates carrying supplies and water sat idly at the island’s ports with no truck drivers to move them.1

Later, a three-star general was sent to the island territory to manage relief logistics. Emergency teams were in a better position to fan out across the island to begin helping residents with their immediate needs. Multiple daily emergency planeloads of much-needed generators, water, tents, cots and other crucial supplies continued to arrive to help survivors across the island.2

By mid-October, there were still challenges such as smaller seaports and airports still closed.

"We’re slowly starting to make progress every day," said Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "It’s not going to move as fast as people want because you’re dealing with a very fragile power system, very fragile public works system, very fragile roadway network system."3

For the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, about 800,000 pounds of goods were initially donated by local schools, small businesses, places of worship and individuals. Relief organizers at the Red Cross and other agencies said they were running out of space for the items and having challenges getting the goods to the right people in need.4

Supply chain lessons

So how can these delays and holdups be avoided? Experts say the guiding principles for logistics deployed in disaster relief are similar to best practices in day-to-day supply chain management:5

  • Set up a war room with a clear command and control structure.
  • Focus on reducing complexity.
  • Invest heavily in last-mile logistics.
  • Establish structured processes to synchronize supply and demand.
  • Establish a system to gather and disseminate intelligence.
  • Proactively manage offers and donations.6

If that final principle—making decisions on which donations to accept or reject—isn’t managed well, organizers already struggling to set up logistics in challenging environments could be faced with "a second disaster."7

"There are systems in place to get people what they need," said Regine Webster, a vice president at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP). But often after a large disaster, heavy winter coats will be sent to relieve people in warm climates and other snafus. "It’s really awful."8

After a hurricane hit Honduras in 1998, logistics experts working with relief organizations became overwhelmed by clothing donations that were entirely unusable. Bales and boxes of clothing sat untouched on runways across the nation, blocking the shipment of valuable disaster-relief supplies, said Juanita Rilling, the director of the USAID Center for International Disaster Information. The clothing items ranged from high-heeled shoes to winter coats. "And I thought, ‘Winter coats?’ It’s summer in Honduras," she said.9

"Generally, after a disaster, people with loving intentions donate things that cannot be used in a disaster response, and in fact, may actually be harmful," Rilling said.10

Donation decisions

Charities recommend that donors focus on providing specific goods requested by nonprofits that are assisting those afflicted communities. Otherwise, consider sending money instead of items.

Often, relief agencies can get more bang for their buck than the average consumer by buying in bulk and working out special arrangements with suppliers. And the agencies will have the flexibility to buy supplies that are needed the most.11 In addition, being able to buy supplies locally cuts down on transportation costs and injects money into the local economy, which has been affected by the disaster.

Remember the logistics and extra costs associated with donating an actual physical item—transportation, inventory and distribution, for example. Unless there’s a specific list of items a charity requests, resist the urge to give items.

Also, consider being proactive about choosing a trustworthy agency you will donate to before the next disaster, then don’t restrict the use of the money.12

 "Once the storm ends, the work begins," said Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of CDP. "We’re not asking people not to fund the immediate relief, but to think about the long-term recovery in their giving habits."13

—compiled by Mark Edmund, associate editor


  1. Luis Gomez, "Puerto Rico Supply Chain Breaks Down: Thousands of Supply Containers Sit Idle," San Diego Union Tribune, Sept. 28, 2017, www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/the-conversation/sd-puerto-rico-supply-chain-breaks-down-why-aid-supplies-sit-on-docks-20170928-htmlstory.html.
  2. Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Lizette Alvarez and Frances Robles, "Puerto Rico Faces Mountain of Obstacles on the Road to Recovery," New York Times, Sept. 21, 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/09/21/us/hurricane-maria-puerto-rico-recovery.html.
  3. Deborah Barfield Berry, "FEMA Officials Say They’re ‘Slowly Starting to Make Progress’ in Puerto Rico," USA Today, Oct. 9, 2017, www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/10/09/fema-officials-say-progress-underway-puerto-ric-were-progress-slowly-starting-make-progress-every-da/747095001.
  4. Junior Gonzalez, "‘Logistical Nightmare’ Getting Hurricane Donations Where Needed," York Dispatch (PA), Sept. 19, 2017, www.yorkdispatch.com/story/news/2017/09/14/logistical-nightmare-getting-hurricane-donations-where-theyre-needed/666749001.
  5. David Biederman, "The New Logistics of Disaster Relief," Journal of Commerce, April 21, 2012, www.joc.com/new-logistics-disaster-relief_20120421.html.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Liz Moyer, "Food and Clothes Donations Create ‘A Second Disaster,’ Experts Say—So Just Send Cash," CNBC News, Sept. 20, 2017, www.cnbc.com/2017/09/30/puerto-rico-donations-may-create-a-second-disaster-so-just-send-cash.html.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Shawn Peters, "When Well-Intended Donations Create the Second Disaster," Good360, July 20, 2016, https://good360.org/when-well-intended-donations-create-the-second-disaster.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Pam Fessler, "Want to Help Sandy Victims? Send Cash, Not Clothes," National Public Radio, Nov. 16, 2012, www.npr.org/2012/11/16/165211607/want-to-help-sandy-victims-send-cash-not-clothes.
  12. Hilda Bastian, "Emotional Donating: The Science and Un-Science of Disaster Response," Scientific American, Sept. 30, 2013, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/absolutely-maybe/emotional-donating-the-science-and-un-science-of-disaster-response.
  13. David Roos, "Donation Tips for (Really) Helping Disaster Victims," HowStuffWorks, Sept. 18, 2017, http://money.howstuffworks.com/5-donation-tips-for-really-helping-disaster-victims.htm.


NIST Awards Grants to Support Innovation

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently announced that 21 small businesses will receive a total of $3.9 million in grants to support innovative technology development.

Recipients in 16 states will receive phase one or phase two funding through NIST’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The competitively selected awardees submitted proposals in response to NIST’s calls for innovative products. These products aim to solve specific technology challenges in collaboration and partnership, data and modeling, precision measurements, and systems.

Phase one awardees receive up to $100,000 to establish the merit, feasibility and commercial potential of the proposed R&D. After completing their phase one projects, awardees may vie for phase two funding of up to $300,000 to continue their efforts. In phase three, non-SBIR funds are used for technology commercialization.

To see a list of grant recipients, visit http://tinyurl.com/nist-innovation.

AIAG Organizes Survey on Corporate Responsibility

The Automotive Industry Action Group is conducting a survey to examine corporate responsibility and sustainability opportunities and challenges. Take the survey at http://tinyurl.com/aiag-sr-survey.


The American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS) and the nonprofit French Association of Supply Chain and Logistics LLP (ASLOG) have signed a strategic memorandum of understanding to formalize collaborative efforts on research initiatives to expand the supply chain knowledge base of the APICS and ASLOG communities. ALSOG also can participate in APICS’s long-term strategic research committees.

For more details about the pact, visit http://tinyurl.com/apics-aslog-pact.

More Consumers Unhappy With PCs

Customer satisfaction with personal computers (PC) continues to decline, reflecting weak demand for tablets, laptops and desktops.

According to a report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), customer satisfaction scores for PCs are down by 1.3% to 77 on a 100-point scale this year from last year.

There may be a few reasons for the drop, according to ACSI researchers:

  • The global shortage of Not And (NAND) flash storage caused a rise in PC prices, which contributes in part to lower customer satisfaction.
  • Consumers are increasingly using smartphones as alternatives to computers and are less impressed by PC innovations or lack of innovations.
  • U.S. demand for PCs is subsiding.

"The problem with PC demand is actually quite simple, and it’s reflected in weak customer satisfaction," said Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder. "Computers have become a cash cow, so manufacturers aren’t investing enough in innovation. Compared to smartphones, there is very little advancement in technology to speak of. Functionality is basically the same as it was a few years ago. That’s not a formula for creating satisfied customers, and provides no reason for people to replace their old model with a new one."

For more from the report, visit http://tinyurl.com/acsi-pc-probs.

Getting to Know …

Rajesh Kumar Tyagi

What was your introduction to quality? An operations management class I took had a module on quality management, including an introduction to Six Sigma. I noticed the lack of quality literature for the service sector.

Is there a teacher who influenced you more than others? Why? Deepak Jain of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. He has a photographic memory, connects with students and simplifies concepts. He reignited my own interest in a teaching career.

Do you have a mentor who has made a difference in your career? Yes, my operations management professor at Northwestern, Sunil Chopra.

Are you active in ASQ? I served as a student branch counselor and chair of an awards committee. 

Any previous jobs you consider noteworthy? I managed product development for a Cleantech Group company.

Have you had anything published? I coauthored A Complete and Balanced Service Scorecard: Creating Value Through Sustained Performance Improvement, (FT Press, 2008); and I coauthored "An Integrated Framework for Service Quality: SQBOK Perspective," Quality Management Journal, Vol. 20, No. 2, 2013, pp. 34-47.

What noteworthy activities or achievements outside of ASQ do you participate in? After organizing numerous roundtable discussions, I coauthored the report, "Unlocking the Potential of Canada-India Partnership: Present Initiatives and Future Agenda" (Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce, 2014).

Any recent honors or awards? Elected to ASQ’s 2017 class of fellows.

What was the last movie you saw? "3 Idiots" (a Bollywood movie).

What’s the last book you read? Currently reading, Declutter Your Mind, by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport.

Personal: Married with three children.

What do you do for fun? Reading, Latin dancing and meditation.

Quality quote: Next-generation quality is less reliant on statistical tools and more about proactively transforming intangible customer experiences into tangible business processes.

New @ ASQ

ASQ’s Biomedical Division is hosting a conference Nov. 7-8 in Toronto that’s focused on process validation and integrating risk management. For more on the event, visit http://tinyurl.com/biomed-toronto.

Joanne Wendelberger, a senior-level scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, is the recipient of ASQ’s Statistics Division’s 2017 William G. Hunter Award. An ASQ senior member and an American Statistical Association fellow, Wendelberger’s current research interests include statistical experimental design and test planning, statistical bounding and uncertainty, materials degradation modeling, sampling and analysis in large-scale computation and visualization, probabilistic computing and education modeling.

ASQ will begin partnering with Taylor & Francis Group next year to handle publishing ASQ’s Journal of Quality Technology and Quality Management Journal. Taylor & Francis already partners to publish ASQ’s Quality Engineering and Technometrics.

ASQ’s Quality 4.0 Summit on Disruption, Innovation and Change will be held Nov. 13-14 in Dallas. The conference will feature presentations, demonstrations and discussions led by technology experts, industry leaders and quality professionals. Keynote speakers include John McElligott, CEO and founder of York Exponential, an internet marketing service, and Rebekah Kowalski, vice president of Right Management, a global talent strategy and career management provider. For more details, visit asq.org/Quality4.0Summit.

The ASQ European Quality Conference is being held Nov. 6-7 in Berlin. The conference is geared toward European quality professionals interested in applying quality philosophies and tools to cutting-edge technologies in a rapidly changing work environment. The theme of the conference is "The Next Generation of Quality: The Future Is Now." For more details on the four focus areas of the event, as well as registration information, visit http://asq.org/conferences/european-quality.

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