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Is It Harder To Distribute Aid in Puerto Rico Than In Other Places? Houston Expert Says No

Federal agencies may have had their individual emergency plans, but there was not a collaborative plan to administer a cohesive coordinated effort that would remediate Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands crisis, Houston Community College’s Logistics expert says.

Crowley shipping containers with running refrigeration systems are lined up at in the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico. They've been there for days, goods locked away inside.
Crowley shipping containers with running refrigeration systems are lined up at in the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico. They’ve been there for days, goods locked away inside.

As thousands of containers with food and other basic supplies sit undistributed at Puerto Rico’s ports, we asked Houston Community College‘s Professor of Logistics James Battieste whether moving the aid in a devastated island is more complicated than in mainland, and what would be the best course of action.

Millions of Puerto Ricans– who are U.S. citizens– are stranded in the island without food, running water, electricity, or fuel, many days after category five Hurricane Maria devastated the territory. The Mayor of  San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, publicly begged for help from Washington. Last week she expressed her gratitude for the relief efforts but also indicated that FEMA ‘s bureaucracy and  other logistics inefficiencies had created a bottleneck in the distribution system. 

Professor Battieste says that the starting point to assess this kind of situation is: Who is in charge of the management of these emergencies?

“In order to answer that question, let examine each of these crises to identify that role, if any.

A week prior to the storm in South Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, information was provided by the national weather agencies regarding Harvey’s potential impact, direction, speed, and estimate time of arrival. This information was disseminated to public, private, federal, state, and local government agencies.   As a result, electrical exchanges, medical and local businesses, public utilities developed their emergency response plans. In addition, public transportation, communication networks chemical and telecommunication entities develop emergency plan to address the impact to their industries, such as refinery, electrical exchange, transportation infrastructures, railroads, harbors and airport systems. In the case of South Texas, the role of leading this effort was a combination of private, public and government entities collaboration.

Houston Community College’s Logistic Professor James Battieste.
Oct. 2nd, 2017

Now compare that synergy/effort to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Island and the Caribbean emergency plan, if there was any plan or collaborative effort! What plan or contribution did any Federal agencies contribute to the developing or supporting this crisis? They may have had their individual emergency plans, but as such there was not of a collaborative plan to administer a cohesive coordinated effort that would remediate Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands crisis.

Let’s define logistics: Logistics is development and implementation of procedures and processes, which control the efficient and effective forward and reverse flow of goods, services and related information between the point of origin and the point of consumption in order to meet customers’ requirements. Humanitarian logistics is the process and systems involved in mobilizing people, resources, skills, and knowledge to help people who have been affected by either a natural or man-made disaster.

Logistics affect how well (or how poorly) an entity and its associated partners can achieve goals and objectives. As a result of the lack of a comprehensive emergency plans in place we have the crises confronting Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

What would be a recommendable system/chain of command in a situation like this? Logistics management utilizes the system approach to business problems. The systems approach acknowledgement that all entities, federal, local agencies, private enterprises, public and corporate partners recognize their mutual interdependency. System approach requires that the goals and objectives of the collaboration will ensure that all human, social, and services are available immediately.

FEMA does not manage emergencies. FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards. FEMA roles is in conjunction or in collaboration with private enterprises, public entities, federal, state and local government agencies in addressing crises such as what happen in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas storms and flooding.”

To the question of whether helping an island or group of islands make logistics more complicated, Battieste’s answer is: “No.”

“The recommended entity to lead Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island relief campaign would be the National Guard. The National Guard is comprised of citizen soldiers with various business expertise and skills. Their command center operation possess the communication and administrative capacity required to provide appropriate assessments and responses in order to coordinate all plans. Support, such as trucks, gas storage units, helicopters, boats, medical services, construction and communication system, and material handling expertise is available through their units.”

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