- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should focus on supporting local supply chain rebuilding efforts rather than orchestrating an influx of aid materials, according to new report published by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
- Modern supply chains, which are more complex and connected than ever, are often more vulnerable to disruption in a catastrophic disaster scenario, argues the report, since a disruption in one state or territory can easily hold up an entire supply chain.
- In addition to focusing on restoring supply chain function, the report suggests crisis logisticians base decisions on principles of good supply chain management, prioritize communication and information sharing, and develop training on best practices. FEMA commissioned the report in 2017 from the Committee on Building Adaptable and Resilient Supply Chains After Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria — formed for this purpose — which then conducted two years of research and interviews to generate the consensus recommendations.
The report represents a years-long reckoning for FEMA, which has been rethinking its role in disaster recovery since Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria pummeled U.S. territories within four weeks in 2017, said Kathy Fulton, executive director of the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) and a member of the committee.
The cluster of storms not only stressed supply chains but also FEMA itself. In the existing prevalent model of emergency management, government actors are tasked with getting aid materials to the affected area without regard for recovery of private supply chains and sometimes without a clear demand signal from the ground.
This practice, explained Fulton, can put FEMA in competition with private supply chains for crucial resources like freight and ultimately slow the recovery of important local infrastructure like grocery stores.
"Many of the challenges that emerged in 2017 were the result of prior policy and planning strategies that created problems within essential supply chain sectors," wrote James Featherstone, committee chair, in the report's preface.
FEMA included in its 2018 strategic plan the intention to "posture FEMA and the whole community to provide life-saving and life-sustaining commodities, equipment, and personnel from all available sources," indicating a need for new thinking.
"It's a different role than emergency management has typically played," Fulton told Supply Chain Dive, speaking about the committee's recommendations. "And probably even before that, there was a recognition that, especially in a catastrophic scenario, government entities cannot do it themselves."
The report will now serve as a guide for policy change in Washington.