Capstone Thesis: The Importance of Logistics in Disaster Management

Capstone Thesis: The Importance of Logistics in Disaster Management

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I dedicate this thesis to my parents. Without their patience, understanding, support, and, most of all, love, the completion of this work would not have been possible.


I want to acknowledge everyone who played a role in my academic journey and accomplishments. First, my spouse, who continuously supported me with her love and understanding. Without you, I would never have attained my current level of academic success. Second, my instructor, who read my numerous revisions and helped make some sense of the confusion and provided guidance and advice throughout the course and research process. Lastly, my colleagues, who have been of great assistance and company during the session and research. This project would not have been possible without your continued support. Thank you all for your unwavering support.



In any disaster management operation, including disaster response and the provision of disaster relief, humanitarian logistics play one of the most critical roles. Disaster logistics bridges the gap that usually exists between the area affected by a disaster – the disaster region – and the aid materials and equipment. The flow of equipment and aid to the areas experiencing an emergency is made efficient through disaster logistics. In any disaster management or humanitarian aid operation, the logistics activities involved determining the level of success of the disaster response and management, which includes determining the level of suffering that the affected victims go through after the disaster has occurred. The purpose of this research is to discuss the role that logistics and logistics providers play in disaster response and management. The various challenges that logistics providers face will be identified and addressed to determine how these can be mitigated. Finally, recommendations on the improvement of logistics provision during disasters will be provided and discussed.



Every time a disaster or calamity hits the headlines, everyone hopes that the necessary resources and rescue are effectively and quickly availed to assist the affected individuals. It is the expectation of all people that aid will be provided in a manner that will minimize casualties and fatalities and manage the disaster effectively. However, this is not always the case.  Sometimes the response to disasters is slow and inefficient, which results in delays and unnecessary suffering (Pearce, 2003). The management of logistics plays a crucial role in the management of disasters (Kovács & Spens, 2007). Over the past few years, the focus on logistics management has been increasing, resulting in better disaster management. Calamities appear to be on the rise, with earthquakes, floods, and man-made disasters occurring more regularly as the years continues. These disasters are much more on the public’s radar as compared to previous years.

Logistics in disaster relief are as necessary as the raising of funds. A huge portion of the total amount of money raised during disasters is spent on logistics. The essence of disaster management is a rapid response. In recent years, leading practitioners of supply chain management and logistics have been focusing on agility, seeking to develop processes that have the capability of responding to unpredictable events rapidly. In humanitarian logistics, coordination is essential, especially where there is a vast potential to improve response and the resulting benefit to the affected individuals (Pearce, 2003). The capacity of society to adapt to the response and logistics needs when a disaster occurs is sometimes overwhelmed, making it difficult to respond to the disaster effectively. Ineffective disaster response results in more injuries, suffering, and fatalities when an emergency occurs.

Disaster management refers to all the activities and processes conducted before the disaster, during the disaster, and after the occurrence of the accident. The objective of disaster management is to reduce the extent of physical and economic losses and damages. Disaster management also aims at reducing the level of suffering that the affected society members experience when a disaster occurs. Disaster management efforts increase the speed of reconstruction and restitution activities and initiatives. Ensuring that disaster management is productive and successful, it is imperative that all the parties involved in the diverse response activities are well-informed on their respective roles (Kovács & Spens, 2007). There is a need for balanced and timely delivery of materials and equipment necessary for disaster response and management. Disaster logistics comes in to bridge the gap between the disaster region and the response or aid materials and equipment. The flow of equipment and aid to the areas experiencing a disaster is made efficient through disaster logistics.


When disasters occur, they disrupt the day to day lives of people in the society, often overwhelming the adaptability capacity of the community for disaster response. This often results in a large number of fatalities, injuries, and loss of property. In this research, the role that logistics and logistics providers play in disaster response and management will be discussed. The various challenges that logistics providers face will be identified and addressed with the aim of determining how these can be mitigated. Recommendations on the improvement of logistics provision during disasters will be provided and discussed.


No country in the world has been unaffected by a disaster in the past. As such, every country needs to establish a good disaster management program to minimize the effects of disasters and manage future disasters. In this research, an overview of various disaster management issues that affect the nation and the world at large is provided. The multiple players who play a role in disaster management, including the humanitarian aid providers and disaster logistics providers, are discussed and described. Logistics go far beyond events that can be directly classified as disasters since they may be involved in other events that involve the provision of aid to people who are suffering. The aspect of logistics in the management of disasters and related events is widely discussed in this research.

This research will aim at identifying the role and importance of logistics in disaster management. Various problems associated with logistics provision and disaster management will be discussed, and recommendations provided on how best to improve disaster logistics. The hypothesis for the research is disaster logistics activities are the most crucial part of disaster management and humanitarian aid activities since they bridge the gap that exists between the disaster area or region and the assistance or equipment necessary for disaster management. Various information sources will be used to support the thesis statement and provide recommendations for logistics efficiency improvement.


The research questions in this research will be as follows:

RQ1: What role does logistics play in the management of disasters and disaster response?

RQ2: What are some of the various disaster logistics providers involved in disaster management?

RQ3: What problems face disaster logistics providers in the management of disasters and the provision of humanitarian aid?

RQ4: What are some of the logistics lessons learned from the management of recent disasters?

Each of these questions will be mainly discussed, with answers obtained from various academic sources addressing disaster management issues and programs.


Cozzolino (2012), in “Humanitarian Logistics: Cross-Sector Cooperation in Disaster Relief Management,” discussed the role of humanitarian logistics in the management of disaster relief. The author dwells a lot on the issue of cooperation between various sectors involved in disaster relief management, discussing various issues that affect humanitarian logistics and relief provision. Cozzolino (2012) reports that from the year 2000, the number of disasters has largely increased, with the magnitude and impact also increasing for both natural and man-made disasters. There is an indication that disasters may increase in coming years, which necessitates the need for better disaster preparedness. According to the author, there were 302 natural disasters in 2011, as reported by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.  These various disasters were responsible for the death of more than 29,000 lives and affected more than a total of 206 million people, with gross economic damage of about 366 billion US dollars.

It is this surge in the number, magnitude, and impact of disasters that have resulted in more people and organizations taking a keen interest in disaster management, humanitarian logistics, and supply chain management.  A lot of research has been directed towards humanitarian logistics and supply chain management in the recent past, as Cozzolino (2012) indicates.  Most of the research reviewed by the author was directed at identifying the various challenges that are presented by disaster relief activities.  After conducting a review of past literature and research on humanitarian logistics and other areas of disaster management, the Author concluded that “The impact on affected populations can be reduced by the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian operations in response to the emergencies.” Approximately 80 percent of all the disaster relief operations consist of logistics, which means that the achievement of effectiveness and efficiency is only possible through the improvement of logistics operations and supply chain management.

Logistics and supply chain management is of important value to humanitarian relief in disaster management (Cozzolino, 2012).  Logistics and supply chain management are the critical elements in any disaster relief operation and are the determinants of whether the operation achieves success or not.  The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 is an example of a past disaster that resulted in the loss of many lives and property worth billions.  Various lessons emerged from the management of the Indian Ocean tsunami and the provision of humanitarian relief after its occurrence.  The tsunami showed that the effectiveness of emergency aid response is dependent on logistics speed and efficiency (Cozzolino, 2012).  It is important to improve the awareness of the vital role of logistics in humanitarian relief operations, as this will have a direct impact on the management of disasters and efficiency of operations.  Simply put, logistics (in disaster management) refers to the systems and processes involved in the mobilization of resources, people, knowledge, and skills to assist the people who are left vulnerable after the occurrence of a disaster.

In every disaster management or humanitarian relief operation, the most important thing is to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of commodities and people, to ensure that aid reaches the affected people.  The merging of logistics and supply chain management is what makes it possible to provide aid to disaster victims (Cozzolino, 2012).  The optimization of logistics performance necessitates the integration of the relationships among all the parties involved in the provision of logistics and relief.  While logistics focus on moving people and aid from the point of origin to the location hit by a disaster, supply chain management focuses on the quality of the relationships among the various people or groups of people that make such movement possible (Cozzolino, 2012).  No disaster response would be possible or effective without the integration of logistics and supply chain management, which explains why the two are the critical elements in disaster response.

Tatham and Spens (2011) also discuss humanitarian logistics and its role in the management and prevention of disasters.  Their work expounds on the topic of the part that is played by humanitarian logistics in disaster operations.  When a disaster occurs, whether it is a natural or man-made disaster, the delivery of logistics is the most important element of the response operations.  As Tatham and Spens (2011) explain, more than 80 percent of the total expenditure of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in disaster relief and provision of aid is classified under logistics.  These NGOs may, therefore, be looked at as logistic organizations.  The significant difference between humanitarian logistics and commercial logistics is that while inefficiency in retail logistics results in the loss of profits for an organization, lack of efficiency in humanitarian logistics results in the loss of lives or disaster victims, increased loss of property, and increased suffering.

Tatham and Spens (2011) define logistics as “The process of planning, implementing and controlling the efficient, cost-effective flow and storage of goods and materials as well as related information, from the point of origin to the point of consumption to meet the end beneficiary’s requirements”.  This definition is largely similar to the definition of supply chain management or supply network management.  It is quite difficult to differentiate between these two terms as they are closely related.  Supply chain management involves planning and management activities that are involved in the procurement and sourcing, conversion, transportation, and other logistics activities.  The research by Tatham and Spens (2011) identifies the various challenges that humanitarian logistics providers face in their operations.  The authors speak a lot on the issue of the relationships and cooperation between different NGOs and teams during the management of disasters, stating that the efficiency and effectiveness of the response to future disasters will be improved with better cooperation and exchange of information between various disaster management and relief aid NGOs.

Thomas (2003) identifies the various logistics providers involved in disaster operations.  Also, the author discusses the various challenges that logistics providers face in the provision of disaster relief.  The role of logistics is identified in the article by looking at various relief organizations from different parts of the world.  A few years ago, logistics was not a common topic as it is today.  As Thomas (2003) explains, the term used to simply mean “shipping” and was conducted by logisticians who were located at shipping docks and basements.  Today, however, logistics and supply chain management are terms that are used interchangeably and are internationally recognized as strategic, value-producing elements in the operations of organizations.  The author proceeds to explain why logistics is crucial in the provision of disaster relief, giving some reasons why logistics should be taken as an important part of any disaster operation.

One of the key roles that logistics play in disaster relief is creating a bridge between disaster preparedness and disaster response.  This bridge is established through the development of procurement procedures, prepositioned stock, and supplier relationships that are effective, and through the acquisition of adequate knowledge of the condition of the local transport systems or networks.  Without logistics, there will be a disconnect between disaster preparedness and response, which would result in a lack of efficiency and effectiveness of operations, resulting in increased suffering and loss of lives during a disaster.  The speed and the efficiency of all the major humanitarian programs that involve or relate to health, shelter, food, sanitation, and water interventions are mostly dependent on the ability of the logistics providers to acquire (procure), receive, and transport supplies and aid to the site of the humanitarian relief effort.  It is only through logistics that aid supplies reach the place of the humanitarian relief effort.

The logistics department and logistics providers are involved in all the stages of a relief effort.  Therefore, the logistics department provides a rich repository of data and information that can be reviewed and analyzed in the future to give insights and post-event learning, which can be used to ensure better disaster preparedness and better response.  Logistics information and data encompass all the various aspects of response and execution, including the effectiveness of transportation providers and suppliers.   Also, timeliness of relief efforts; the cost of relief efforts; the information flows between the donors, headquarters and the field; and the appropriateness of the donated goods for relief provision.  In all relief operations, logistics forms the information hub for donors, finance departments, operations managers, and field relief operations (Thomas, 2003).  Even though humanitarian logistics are a critical element in the achievement of success in relief efforts, logistics are under-utilized and under-recognized in many organizations.

In many humanitarian organizations, logistics is still looked at and classified as a support department or function, denying it the recognition that it deserves.  The roles of logistics providers or logisticians are still confined to executing – implementing the decisions made by other departments.  This way, a considerable burden is always placed on “logisticians who have not been given an opportunity to articulate the physical constraints in the planning process.”  This arrangement also results in conflict and tension between departments and various teams since they fail to understand breakdowns and delays in the delivery and supply processes.  It is important to recognize the vital role played by logistics in the provision of disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.  The logistics department in any humanitarian organization should be accorded due recognition and independence, as it serves as the hub between the other departments involved in disaster relief operations.

Perry (2007) discusses the various challenges and problems that logistics providers face in the provision of disaster relief and humanitarian aid.  The author conducted a study on the experiences of logistics providers who responded to the tsunami, discussing the various problems that they faced and the different lessons learned from the disaster.  According to Perry (2007), natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes continue to increase in frequency.  In the years between 1994 and 2004, almost 2 billion people were affected by disasters, as reported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.  The author conducted a research project that was focused on the response to the communities affected by the 2004 tsunami in southern Sri Lanka and Indonesia.  This disaster affected a total of twelve countries, including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, the Maldives, and Somalia, killing more than 200,000 people and injuring thousands of others.

After the tsunami occurred, relief activity was challenging as a majority of the coastal infrastructure systems were destroyed, rendering most areas inaccessible.  A few weeks after the onset of the tsunami, more than 400 international NGOs had set camp in Indonesia, attempting to assist the victims of the disaster (Perry, 2007).  The relief activities that these organizations provided included identification of bodies, medical attention, provision of transport access, and clearing away of debris and rubble.  They also provide basic requirements for survival, including clean drinking water, cooking utensils, food, water purification kits, shelter, safe areas for relocation, and psychological support.  The relief provision operations were successful in controlling and managing the widespread devastation and deaths as a result of hunger and disease, a condition that is common during disasters.  Even though the relief effort bore fruit, it was logistically and organizationally hindered, especially during the early days after the tsunami hit.

For every disaster management situation, specific challenges and obstacles are faced by the agencies involved in humanitarian and relief activities (Perry, 2007).  The difficulties and problems encountered when dealing with the deaths, psychological damage, injuries, land devastation, relocation of people, and destruction of homes caused by the tsunami demanded efficient, effective, and humane response (Perry, 2007).  This is where humanitarian logistics comes in, to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.  Even though there were incredible efforts by many humanitarian organizations after the tsunami, several inefficiencies occurred as a result of failure to consider the important role that logistics play in the provision of aid and relief, and the inability to involve logisticians early enough in relief efforts.  After a disaster occurs, humanitarian agencies are faced with several logistical challenges, including the destruction of bridges, roads, and airports, making it difficult to access remote areas.  Transport capacity and other infrastructure are destroyed by disasters.

All the organizations and agencies involved in the provision of humanitarian aid or relief services need to acquire accurate knowledge of what equipment and supplies are necessary, their location, and how they will be transported to the region affected by a disaster.  They need to know about local transport and communication infrastructure (Perry, 2007).  This knowledge can only be acquired through the efforts of logisticians.  Without logisticians, even if the agencies involved in relief services acquire the necessary information, it would be impossible to achieve efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of supplies to the disaster-stricken region.  An effective response is only possible when logisticians are included, as they can source (procure) the required supplies and transport them to the field.  Logisticians, therefore, play a crucial role in the management of any disaster or any relief operation.

As Perry (2007) notes, logisticians are, most of the time, given limited authority to make decisions, despite the critical role that they play during relief operations and emergency periods.  Also, most assessment or reconnaissance teams that are sent by humanitarian organizations to assess the needs of the disaster victims fail to include logisticians.  Therefore, delays in the distribution of relief or aid are experienced as a result of not including logisticians in decision-making and planning processes.  The local logistics expertise needs to be improved to ensure efficiency during relief operations.  The tsunami revealed flaws existing in logistics expertise.  The distribution of correct quantities effectively when and where they are required is crucial in any humanitarian context (Perry, 2007).  There is also a need for ensuring the timeliness of relief, its adequacy, and proper distribution through efficient warehouses and supply chains, which are functions of logistics.  Higher logistics response efficiency may be achieved through logistics network synergy, connectivity between the supply chain agencies, organizational learning, and information sharing between supply chain parties.

Perry (2007) conducted research that revealed some of the logistical challenges that humanitarian organizations involved in relief efforts in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, after the tsunami, faced.  One of the challenges faced was the lack of adequate preparedness for the disaster.  It was noted that there was a local preparedness problem, stemming from the lack of knowledge of the impact and nature of tsunamis in the largely poor, fishing communities that lived within a few miles of the Indian Ocean beach in Sri Lanka, for instance, knowledge of tsunamis was not passed down in the culture and history of the locals.  Many residents lived in fishing shanties along the beach.  The stronger, concrete-based buildings constructed by those who were well-off, on higher ground, were not destroyed by the tsunami waves.  To prepare adequately for future tsunamis, strategic planning is necessary to construct tsunami-proof buildings on high grounds, while ensuring that they have access to the ocean.

There was also the problem of lack of knowledge about the local vulnerabilities, capabilities, and requirements (Perry, 2007).  Most of the relief and rescue work was conducted by the local people in the days before the international humanitarian agencies arrived.  The residents and local government played a huge role in the saving of lives and the provision of supplies.  The local governments also played a great role in the shaping of the future of disaster victims.  There were certain difficulties encountered with the local people, especially as a result of their culture.  Some cultural and religious aspects hindered relief and rescue efforts.  For instance, residents could not multitask or be given a list of jobs to do, which resulted in slow operations.  They could only be given a single task at a time.  The residents were not swift in their actions, as is the norm in the western countries (Perry, 2007).  People have to be allowed to stop at least four times a day to recite their Muslim prayers.  Even truck drivers had to stop and say prayers when transporting supplies that were urgently needed.

A failure in logistics resulted in the most vulnerable people not being identified early enough during the relief operations in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.  The highly vulnerable groups of people ended up getting overlooked, especially in the distribution of aid, including the elderly, women, the physically damaged, and the children.  A huge chunk of the tsunami aid had been issued to landowners and businesses, neglecting the poor people and other vulnerable groups.  Gender-based vulnerability in societies that are patriarchal is a cultural issue that needs to be considered during any relief operation (Perry, 2007).  The women who lose their male breadwinners are vulnerable socially, economically, and in terms of physical security.  During the relief operations after the 2004 tsunami, it was noted that there were several instances where aid was not issued depending on the needs of women, mostly because of their inferior status in the local communities.  This shows that there is a need for a thorough vulnerability assessment by the government and the relief agencies using procedures such as the International Federation of Red Cross Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment model.  Through this, international relief agencies and NGOs will acquire a better understanding of the requirements of the people affected by a disaster and prepare adequately.

Van Wassenhove (2006) discusses the various complexities of logistics management in disaster response, such as managing supply chains in humanitarian aid provision.  The author presents the idea that the private sector logistics need to be applied for the improvement of disaster logistics performance, emphasizing the fact that the private sector has to understand the capabilities of humanitarian logistics before being implemented.  The complexities associated with the management of supply chains in the humanitarian field are discussed.  The author explains the potential of cross-learning for both the private sector and the humanitarian sector in relief operations, and the possibility of benefiting from increased corporate social responsibility (Van Wassenhove, 2006).  The various methods through which organizations can be better prepared for disasters and the importance of supply chains and logistics to be adaptable, agile, and well-aligned are also outlined, highlighting the vital role that logistics play in the relief operations after the occurrence of a disaster.

The 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction insisted on the need for better disaster relief preparedness in natural disaster occurrences (Van Wassenhove, 2006).  Being well-prepared for natural disasters may also assist in preparation for man-made disasters.  Since the conference, humanitarians have faced building up the pressure to show that they have achieved efficiency and that the aid and goods donated reach those that are in need.  Donors have become more aware of expenses and logistics, forcing humanitarian organizations to work harder to achieve efficiency and effectiveness.  According to Van Wassenhove (2006), “disaster relief is about 80% logistics”, which means that to achieve better efficiency and effectiveness, humanitarian organizations have to ensure efficient, slick, an effective logistics operations and supply chain management.

Logistics and supply chain management have become not only critically important for private sector logisticians, but also humanitarian organizations.  More and more organizations and people continue to acknowledge the integral role played by logistics in relief operations, especially after the Indian Ocean tsunami (Van Wassenhove, 2006).  The author defines logistics as “the process of planning, implementing and controlling the efficient, cost-effective flow of and storage of goods and materials as well as related information, from the point of origin to the point of consumption to meet the end beneficiary’s requirements” (Van Wassenhove, 2006).  In simpler terms, logistics, in the humanitarian context, is the systems and processes that are utilized in the mobilization of resources, skills, people, and knowledge to assist people who are left vulnerable by a disaster.  Logistics is mandatory to the performance, in terms of speed and effectiveness, of the present and future activities of humanitarian organizations.  Logistics serves as the bridge between preparedness for disasters and the response, and as the bridge between supplies sourcing and distribution.

Logistics also serves as the link between the humanitarian organizations headquarter and the region of relief provision or the field.  It is also the costliest element of any relief operation, and maybe the determinant of the success or failure of a relief operation.  Logistics provides an essential source of data as it deals with goods tracking – providing information that can be used to assess the effectiveness of relief operations (Van Wassenhove, 2006).  Logistics has been widely explained by different authors using a different definition.  However, the key issue is that logistics includes preparedness, planning, procurement, design, transportation, warehousing, inventory, distribution, and the satisfaction of recipients.  All the operations related to logistics should be designed in a way that ensures that the right supplies get to the right place and the right people at the right time.

The most significant challenge for humanitarian logistics teams is the complexity of the working conditions within which they work when supplying aid to the victims of a disaster.  The Indian Ocean tsunami revealed that humanitarian logistics teams faced a lot of hardships while assisting the victims.  Several kilometers of coastline were affected by the tsunami.  Roads, railways, airports, and other means of transport were destroyed by the disaster, making many of the areas affected challenging to access.  This is often the case with many disasters.  As such, humanitarians require complex and robust equipment that have the capability of being quickly set up and dismantled to ensure adaptability and preparedness for unforeseen circumstances (Van Wassenhove, 2006).  It is disappointing that logistics teams in the humanitarian sector are often forced to work with inadequate technology and tedious manual systems and processes even in remote areas.  Moreover, logisticians often face safety challenges, especially when they are working in politically unstable climates.

Countries that are politically volatile, such as Somalia and Sudan, logisticians are exposed to safety risks when providing relief to vulnerable people such as women and children.  Humanitarian logistics teams also find themselves working under high uncertainty levels concerning supplies, their demand, and assessment (Van Wassenhove, 2006).  In many cases, when teams are sent by humanitarian organizations and agencies to conduct a needs assessment in a region affected by a disaster, logisticians are not included in the groups.  This results in poor planning as logisticians are not involved in the processes of planning and decision making.  It is for this reason that humanitarian logistics teams face uncertainties in the levels of supplies needed and demand.  This challenge results in aid not reaching the most deserving groups of people in the field.

Logisticians also face immense pressure of time, which in a disaster situation, means the difference between life and death (Van Wassenhove, 2006).  Other challenges that face logistics in humanitarian efforts include disorganization and high rate of staff turnover, which is caused by burn-out as a result of high physical and emotional demands, often resulting in short supply of skilled staff.  Humanitarian organizations work with many stakeholders in the provision of relief, including many disparate and uncoordinated donors, governments, the media, final beneficiaries, and the military.  In a disaster situation such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, there can be hundreds of organizations in the field of operation.  All these groups do not always carry themselves in a coordinated manner, especially since each of them may have a different ideology, political agenda, and beliefs (Van Wassenhove, 2006).  Aligning these groups and organizations while avoiding a compromise of their ideas, agenda, and mandates is often a great challenge for humanitarian logistics teams.  This often results in a lack of efficiency and a lot of disorganization in the field of relief operations.

Holguín-Veras et al., (2012) define what humanitarian logistics are, looking at logistic activity as a process that involves seven key components – “the objectives being pursued, the origin of the commodity flows to be transported, knowledge of demand, the decision-making structure, periodicity and volume of logistics activities, and the state of the social networks and supporting systems”.  The authors note that there is little research on humanitarian logistics, especially on characterization aspects, regardless of its crucial role.  The reason for this is the small size of the humanitarian logistics practitioner’s community, as humanitarian logistics practitioners are just a few thousand people in the world (Holguín-Veras et al., 2012).  The small size of the humanitarian logistics practitioners’ community and its reluctance to publicize the actual accounts of humanitarian logistics efforts have left many people unaware of the crucial role that humanitarian logistics play in the management of disasters or provision of relief to disaster victims.

Only the people who are directly involved in the actual humanitarian logistics operations and those familiar with the details of such activities understand the important role of humanitarian logistics.  The authors note that the lack of understanding of the importance of humanitarian logistics presents a hindrance to the development of analytical models since it is impossible to come up with models of a system that people poorly understand (Holguín-Veras et al., 2012).  Humanitarian logistics is a broad term that includes operations such as the provision of food supplies to combat hunger, provision of medical supplies for disease prevention, and distribution of critical supplies after a disaster occurs.  Even though all these operations are humanitarian, they differ in terms of the urgency level, the social networks necessary for each operation, the dynamic nature of needs, and the supporting systems for each operation.  Therefore, taking humanitarian logistics as a single block fails to consider the differences and complexities of the different operational environments and makes it hard for people not directly involved in humanitarian logistics to understand the different features of the various types of humanitarian logistics.

While commercial logistics are generally concerned with optimizing the various facets of production – manufacturing, distribution, and retrieval of wastes, humanitarian logistics cover a variety of activities that are carried out at each stage of emergency and disaster management – preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery (Holguín-Veras et al., 2012).  Preparedness and mitigation operations are conducted before a disaster to minimize the potential impact of the disaster on infrastructure and people.  For instance, drills related to pre-positioning of supplies and distribution of relief are conducted to prepare teams for an actual emergency.  Response operations are performed after a disaster occurs and include efforts such as the transportation or delivery of equipment necessary for search and rescue, provision of critical supplies, and the provision of equipment required for repairing damaged infrastructure.

The process of recovery is divided into two major sub-sections – short-term recovery and long-term recovery (Holguín-Veras et al., 2012).  Short-term recovery is usually the stage between the response stage and long-term recovery.  Short-term recovery includes activities such as managing volunteers, managing donations, securing of temporary housing, carrying out an assessment of the damage caused, and clearing of debris.  Long-term recovery may go on for several years after a disaster and aims at fostering improved quality of life or a return to normality after a disaster.  Activities in long-term recovery include psychological counseling, the rebuilding of infrastructure, distribution of food supplies to prevent malnutrition, and distribution of medical supplies to prevent diseases.  Long-term recovery seeks to ensure that the victims of a disaster are restored to their previous state or that they acquire a life that is close to what they had before the occurrence of the disaster.

Sheu (2007) discusses logistics as an important part of disaster management and relief operations.  The various challenges facing emergency logistics are analyzed and categorized depending on their nature.  According to the author, even though emergency logistics is essential, it is plagued by various challenges that are not as easily solved as though that face business logistics.  The importance of emergency logistics is undeniable, as it enables relief operations to be efficient and effective.  The various challenges that emergency logistics faces were classified into four major points by Sheu (2007).  First, emergency logistics has not been defined clearly.  Whereas business logistics has been represented well in past literature as the process involving planning, implementing, and managing the effective and efficient flow of goods or products from the point of production to the customer, emergency logistics has not been clearly defined or explained.

The definition of logistics in the business context cannot be fully applied to emergency logistics since the nature of the problem, the demand features, and the operational purposes are different from those of business logistics (Sheu, 2007).  The author coins a definition of emergency logistics, defining it as the “…process of planning, managing and controlling the efficient flows of relief, information, and services from the points of origin to the points of destination to meet the urgent needs of the affected people under emergency conditions” (Sheu, 2007).  The second major challenge identified by Sheu (2007) is the uncontrollability of the timeliness of relief supply and distribution in an emergency period, especially during the first three days after the occurrence of a disaster.  Sheu (2007) explained this challenge using two facets: the phase of relief supply – the stage where relief supplies are obtained from internal and external suppliers and transported to the relief distribution centers; and the step of relief distribution – the phase where the delivery of relief from the distribution centers to the areas affected by disaster is carried out to meet the needs of the vulnerable people.

During the relief supply phase, operational challenges are encountered as a result of hardships in the identification of relief supply sources and coordination of the supplies for quick response to the affected people’s needs.  Often, a delay is experienced between the time that the relief is actuated and the time that the relief is assigned to those who need it (Sheu, 2007).  During the relief distribution phase, the dependability of infrastructure that has been damaged is an example of a challenge that is faced.  The accessibility to the affected areas is affected, creating uncertainties in the distribution of relief.  The challenges experienced in these two phases increase the complexity of time-based emergency logistics.

The management of resources for emergency logistics is also a considerable challenge.  In business logistics, the necessary operational resources such as servers and containers are readily known and controllable to the suppliers.  In emergency logistics, however, the environment of operation is highly uncertain, especially with the needed resources being attributed from both the private and public sectors (Sheu, 2007).  In emergency logistics, it is always necessary to coordinate the resources of private and public areas to ensure that there is no arbitrary allocation of resources during a disaster.  Disaster resource coordination is also made difficult and challenging by factors such as communication failure or problems amongst the suppliers of relief, communication failure between servers, and communication failure between the suppliers and demanders (Sheu, 2007).  Another huge challenge is that real-time demand information that is accurate, while needed, is almost inaccessible.  This is mostly because communication from the affected people (demander) and the information providers (the rescuers and reporters) is not consistent.

In business logistics, information on product orders is usually provided accurately and directly by the customers.  In emergency logistics, however, the providers of on-the-spot relief demand information may be limited and may give inaccurate information (Sheu, 2007).  In almost all the disaster cases, actual data of the requirements on the ground is not timely and actively provided by the people affected by the disaster.  Moreover, the information on the demand for relief is somehow a form of aggregate-demand rather than disaggregate demand as is the form in business logistics.  Relief demand information, therefore, ends up being fuzzy and unpredictable due to the lack of historical referable information (Sheu, 2007).  It is, therefore, challenging to forecast relief demand.  The various challenges in the emergency logistics networks, the channels for distribution of relief, the relief supply chain management, the distribution strategies, and reverse logistics for rehabilitation and recovery need to be understood and resolved to improve efficiency in emergency logistics.  Sheu (2007) also noted that the identified challenges became more severe when the scope of operation is expanded to the international domain, calling for further research into the challenges.

Tatham and Pettit (2010) also investigated the various challenges and difficulties that humanitarian logistics face in the provision of aid after the occurrence of a disaster.  According to the authors, the humanitarian logistics field has received much interest and focus since the year 2000, with a lot of research conducted aimed at improving the ability of the international community and individual countries to deal with the challenges faced in the preparation for, and response to both man-made and natural disasters.  The interest and increasing focus have manifested in numerous publications of journals, papers, and other articles that have been devoted to the topic.  Tatham and Pettit (2010) define humanitarian logistics using the definition given by Thomas and Mizushima (2005): “The process of planning, implementing and controlling the efficient, cost-effective flow and storage of goods and materials as well as related information, from the point of origin to the point of consumption for meeting the end beneficiary’s requirements”.

As Tatham and Pettit (2010) report, the demand for humanitarian assistance is global and continues to rise as a result of increased impact and severity of natural disasters, conflicts, and other vulnerabilities caused by financial hardships, lack of water and energy, urbanization, increased population growth, drought and famine, and rising food prices.  This is the reality in which humanitarian logisticians have to operate.  Global warming has been identified by the authors as a potential challenge facing the world, making some countries more vulnerable to natural disasters.  For instance, in Bangladesh, more than a quarter of the country’s population lives along the coast (Tatham & Pettit, 2010), making the country prone to disasters such as tsunamis.

A huge proportion of the natural disasters that the world faces today occur in countries that are unprepared economically and socially.  It is because of this unpreparedness that the Haiti earthquake (7.1 magnitudes) of 2010 took more than 200,000 lives, a figure that was greater than any other resulting from a previous earthquake.  Social conditions and lack of economic preparedness resulted in a huge disaster impact in the country.  Investigations showed that the buildings in Haiti were poorly constructed, dooming them from the start.  Several mistakes were observed, including the use of weak steel, weak cement that was mixed with salty sand, coarse non-angular aggregate, and termination of steel reinforcement rods at joints between floors of buildings and columns (Tatham & Pettit, 2010).  The injury and death that occurred in the country from the earthquake were as a result of several years of poor construction allowed by the government authorities, ignoring the country’s plate-boundary location.  This would explain why the Chile earthquake (8.8 magnitudes) only killed 800 people, even though more than 300 times more powerful than the Haiti earthquake (Swiss Re, 2010).  The Chile earthquake did not have a huge impact as a result of the highly advanced anti-seismic construction standards adopted by the country.

Improving humanitarian logistics will have a significant impact on the response and relief provision efficiency and effectiveness.  However, it is important to recognize that humanitarian logistics is just a single component of disaster response (Tatham & Pettit, 2010).  Therefore, while improving humanitarian logistics will have a significant impact on the effectiveness of response, the other components of disaster response have to be improved too.  Effective and efficient disaster response has to incorporate an improved logistic component and the realization and acknowledgment that the component cannot operate in isolation.  A key lesson learned from the comparison of the Haiti and Chile earthquakes is that preparatory activities have several benefits to a country (Tatham & Pettit, 2010).  Any dollar that is spent on the mitigation of hazards provides a state with future benefits worth more than a dollar.  An example of this reality is provided by Meikle and Rubin (2008): “In Niger in 2005, it would have cost $1 a day to prevent malnutrition among the children if the world had responded immediately.  By July 2005, it cost $80/day to save a malnourished child’s life.”

Despite this realization, donor organizations and governments are not comfortable with donating to mitigation efforts, which are protection from future disasters.  They only contribute to disaster response once a disaster has occurred, with countries having to pay dearly for lack of preparedness.  This is a huge challenge to humanitarian logistics and, in general, disaster response.  The amount of money and other resources that is available for prevention and planning purposes is minimal, resulting in little preparedness and high competition between humanitarian organizations for resources available after the occurrence of a disaster (Tatham & Pettit, 2010).  If adequate funding and resources were made available to organizations during the pre-disaster period, the cost of disaster response would be reduced substantially.

In business logistics, preparatory activities reduce costs significantly.  Location of warehouses, retail outlets, and supply networks are carefully planned and necessary supplies, depending on the level of demand, requested.  Even when there are disruptions to the supply network, the business can progress as expected due to adequate prior planning. Ichoua (2010) extensively addresses the issue of providing emergency supplies before a disaster occurs to enable effective and fast response when the disaster strikes.  As the author explains, the pre-positioning of supplies is a strategic decision that aims at identifying the location and the number of distribution centers and their quantities of inventory for emergency supplies.  Such important decisions have to be made in an environment that is highly prone to disruption, as a timely response is very crucial.  Responding on time is necessary to save the lives of those affected by the disaster and to mitigate the sufferings of these victims.  The first three days after a disaster occurs are the most critical, as relief provided during this time determines the chances of survival of the affected people.

The first three days are crucial as disaster victims cannot survive past that period without the provision of food and water.  The main challenge for emergency logisticians is to deliver the necessary emergency supplies, in the right quantities, where and when they are required (Ichoua, 2010).  As such, humanitarian logistics is one of the most important elements in disaster response.  When a large-scale disaster occurs, especially in cases where a disaster’s impact is very large, the logistical function suffers even greater challenges.  This is because crucial abrupt decisions have to be made in an environment that is highly unpredictable, dynamic, and prone to disruption.  In such an environment, the demand for relief is urgent and high, while resources are scarce.  Whenever disasters occur, relief operations are criticized for poor management of relief, including accusations of unfair distribution and late delivery of emergency supplies.

The Haiti earthquake of 2010 left more than two million people devasted without homes and access to water, food, and urgent care (Ichoua, 2010).  Despite the provision of numerous emergency supplies at the country’s Port-au-Prince airport, logistics providers, including the NGOs, foreign government agencies, and the Haitian government agencies, were finding it difficult to distribute these supplies to the people who needed them urgently.  Challenges in the distribution of emergency supplies resulted in slowness in the distribution of aid (Ichoua, 2010).  This escalated to instances of violence and looting as a result of frustration and desperation.  Such a situation can only be solved by identifying the appropriate centers for distribution and ensuring the free flow of supplies from the donors to the people who need them.  The increasing number of disasters in the world demands that humanitarian organizations and governments engage in better preparedness activities to guarantee effective and adequate relief efforts during disasters.  The issue of pre-positioning emergency supplies is discussed by Ichoua (2010) as a way of preparing for disasters.

Pre-positioning supplies is a process that aims at designing the network for relief distribution before the occurrence of a disaster.  When a disaster eventually occurs, the humanitarian organization will utilize the already set up and designed an interface to carry out the day to day decisions on operations over the period that the relief operations will be ongoing.  Operational decisions during relief operations include decisions on the allocation of supplies depending on demand, scheduling of transportation, and routing of capacitated vehicles (Ichoua, 2010).  Supplies for emergencies consist of consumable commodities such as food, water, and clothing, and non-consumable goods such as electric devices and temporary shelters.  During relief operations, supplies are first obtained from donors, including governments and NGOs, then stored in logistics centers located in various cities. After storage in logistics centers, the emergency supplies are after that transported to temporary distribution centers which are strategically positioned for purposes of distributing supplies to those in need (Ichoua, 2010).  The size of demand and the location are factors that are difficult to foretell since disasters are usually high impact, low probability events.

Also, the demand in each disaster situation is determined by the degree of urgency and the targeted time for response.  Before the occurrence of a disaster, decisions such as the location of the local distribution centers, the number of these centers, and their levels of inventory for every emergency supply type have to be made.  The assignment of demand points to each distribution center is also a decision that needs to be made before a disaster, as each local distribution center functions independently (Balcik et al., 2008).  All these operations are referred to in general as the pre-positioning of emergency supplies and should be considered as part of the larger pre-disaster preparedness process.  Ichoua (2010) advocates for the use of pre-positioning as a way of dealing with the challenges that face humanitarian logistics during a response.  However, the author notes that budget limitations also pose a challenge to humanitarian logistics as they restrict the number of local supply centers that can be set up and their inventory levels.  Ichoua (2010) proposes the pre-positioning of emergency supplies as a great way of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of disaster response.

Murray (2005) reviewed the Tsunami disaster of 2004 and identified the various lessons learned by the logistics providers.  In this article, Murray (2005) states that raising money, a process that has been thought of as the primary challenge of managing disasters and providing relief is not the main issue.  The author reviews the happenings and lessons learned from the relief efforts after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.  After the occurrence of the disaster, the images of devastated survivors on television and other forms of communication resulted in huge donations from all the parts of the world, for relief purposes.  Nevertheless, the provision of huge contributions did not prevent several challenges related to relief management and supply-chain management to occur.

The author points out the main challenges that were experienced during the tsunami relief operations.  The logistical challenges in the delivery of medicine, food, and shelter to those affected by the disaster were the main challenges that humanitarian organizations and governments face in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami.  Such challenges arise in almost every disaster, be it a natural or man-made disaster.  As Murray (2005) reports, after a natural disaster, a huge portion of the local infrastructure systems is destroyed, which makes it difficult to land planes ferrying supplies or drive trucks carrying supplies into the affected regions.  Also, when disasters occur in conflict zones or countries with political instability, rebel forces often obstruct the transport or passage of emergency supplies, sometimes even becoming violent and injuring logisticians.  Murray (2005) also explains how relief agencies are affected by demand surges that are unpredictable in terms of location, timing, and scale, further creating challenges for relief providers and logisticians.

The author notes that many humanitarian organizations already have supplies stored in several warehouses in many parts of the world, as part of disaster preparedness (Murray, 2005).  However, it is not possible to determine the location or region of the next disaster event, which means that these stocked up supplies have to be transported for great distances when a disaster occurs.  As opposed to commercial logistics, where product distribution points or locations are known, humanitarian logistics are faced with the challenge of creating distribution centers within a short time, often in an unpredictable and highly dynamic environment.  With no lead times, humanitarian organizations are usually in a race against time, trying to deliver supplies to disaster victims for whom little delay may mean the difference between life and death.

In addition to challenges faced in the transportation and delivery of supplies during a response, relief organizations find themselves dealing with aid or supplies that are not needed by the victims of a disaster.  Organizations often stock up supplies that may not be necessary for a particular disaster event, sometimes having expired supplies and drugs that may be inappropriate for specific relief operation.  An example is provided of “seven truckloads of expired aspirin tablets that took six months to burn,” a donation received during the Eritrean independence war of 1989 (Murray, 2005).  Cases of inappropriate supplies are standard, as relief missions usually carry incinerators to the disaster scene to enable them to destroy such supplies.  Such issues, in the commercial or business logistics, are minimized through the utilization of inventory management and supply chain management systems such as the popular just-in-time supply chain practices.  The humanitarian logistics sector needs to learn from the commercial logistics sector, as some of the methods used in commercial logistics may help deal with the issues facing humanitarian logistics.

The author gives an example of outsourcing, a practice used mainly in business logistics (Murray, 2005).  The outsourcing practice can be applied in the humanitarian logistics sector, where humanitarian organizations may enter pre-purchasing agreements with the suppliers of tents, drugs, blankets, and other supplies.  It is time that humanitarian organizations realized that stocking up and filling warehouses with emergency supplies is not what disaster preparedness entails.  The most important issue is not having supplies stocked up in a store, but rather, having logistics sufficiently worked out and ready (Murray, 2005).  Logistics is one of the most crucial elements of a disaster response operation.  Humanitarian organizations are starting to realize the importance of logistics, with many partnerships between non-profit and private organizations emerging, and logistics companies being contracted to provide their expertise to these organizations.

Murray (2005) also gives an example of a partnership between a Dutch logistics organization, TNT Logistics, and a humanitarian organization, the World Food Programme.  Through this partnership, the logistics company can share its experience and knowledge with the World Food Programme, assisting the organization in the improvement of its logistics infrastructure.  TNT Logistics has helped the World Food Programme come up with a system for the transportation and storage of emergency supplies required to help Sudanese refugees (Murray, 2005).  Several similar partnerships are coming up as humanitarian organizations seek to streamline their logistics for more efficient response.  The International Federation and DHL also entered a similar partnership in 2005, through which the logistics company was to conduct research and come up with better supply-chain management or logistics tools.  The author also discusses technology as a tool that can be used to improve humanitarian logistics in the future.  Utilizing technology will be a great way of improving logistics in the process of relief operations and general disaster management.

Murray (2005) gives an example of a technological tool that holds great potential for relief operations – the Humanitarian Logistics Software, developed by the Fritz Institute in San Francisco.  The software tracks emergency supplies from when they are donated until they are delivered.  This gives humanitarian organizations an overview of the entire relief pipeline, online.  Through catalogs of items, web-based lists of suppliers, and details of pre-purchasing agreements, humanitarian organizations can make orders online instead of the tedious ordering through telephone calls and letters (Murray, 2005).  It is estimated that the Humanitarian Logistics Software has the capability of speeding up relief supplies delivery by more than 20 percent.  Besides, such software provides a database for information that can be used in future planning, as it keeps information in a repository that provides a record of what happened.

After a disaster, when the relief operations are complete, the organization may look back at the records and identify what did and what did not work (Murray, 2005), improving the future disaster logistics.  The Pan American Health Organization also developed software – Suma, which also tracks donated relief supplies (Murray, 2005).  Through Suma, relief organizations and relief workers can organize donations quickly on arrival, set up distribution priorities, and manage relief supplies’ warehouses.  Huge potential for improved efficiency in emergency relief management lies in the usual low-tech systems (Murray, 2005), which can be used to organize supplies and manage their delivery and allocation.  Color-coding, for instance, can be used to sort supplies and categorize them into classes such as foodstuffs, clothing, and bedding, each with a different color-code.  Relief supplies may also be packaged and transported in packages of manageable size and weight to ease the burden of unloading and repackaging supplies at the receiving end (Murray, 2005).  Such systems have the potential to alleviate relief management and increase logistics efficiency.

If relief supplies are sent in packages of weight and size that a single person can handle, the burden of unloading and repackaging for distribution will be greatly eased.  In many cases, equipment for unloading may not be available at the region of relief operation – the receiving end.  This receiving end is the final mile in relief operations, which often poses the most significant challenges for logisticians (Murray, 2005).  The article also talks about the importance of capitalizing on the local resources to cut down on costs.  As with any form of demand and supply, it is important to determine whether bringing in supplies or purchasing them locally is the better option.  For instance, supplies such as blue plastic sheeting, which are required in massive amounts during disasters are best brought in from international sources as they are prepacked (Murray, 2005).  However, items such as basins and buckets for storage of water may be purchased locally or in the country where the relief operations are ongoing.

Purchasing locally not only saves money but also supports local markets and ensures quick delivery of appropriate supplies.  Despite the substantial progress made over the past years, there is still a lot that can be done to improve the efficiency of disaster logistics (Murray, 2005).  There is a lot that needs to be done, including addressing the issues of insufficient resources and political interference, and ensuring adequate planning is done.  It is common for organizations to underestimate the strategic role that logistics plays in relief efforts, focusing only on fundraising and other relief activities (Murray, 2005).  It is important to understand that logistics enable relief operations to be successful and that determining how relief operations and logistics can be improved for future disasters will minimize the impact of future disasters.


Each of the authors whose work has been reviewed above defines humanitarian logistics differently. However, there are some common aspects in all the definitions provided: the transfer of relief supplies and aid from the donors to the people in need, the utilization of various systems that ensure that supplies reach disaster victims in need, and the aspect of being an element of disaster management and response. Also, all the papers and books reviewed acknowledge the crucial role played by logistics in disaster management – ensuring that emergency supplies get to the people who need them, where they are located and at the time when they are required. Logistics provide efficiency and effectiveness in disaster response.  The foundation of a successful relief operation depends solely on the timely, balance, and quick delivery of supplies and equipment, a function of humanitarian or emergency logistics. It is disaster logistics that provide a bridge between the relief supplies or materials and the disaster areas. Logistics ensure that aid and supplies meant for relief purposes flow efficiently to the disaster areas. As such, disaster logistics activities make up the most important part of disaster management and humanitarian aid operations.


The only shortfall noted from the articles reviewed was the fact that a lot of focus was placed on explaining the challenges facing humanitarian logistics at the expense of providing suggestions on how to combat the noted challenges.  The article by Murray (2005) was the only literature material that discussed various methods through which the various problems facing disaster logistics can be resolved in depth.  Nevertheless, the crucial role of disaster logistics was identified through the review of the literature on the topic.



As the title of the chapter suggests, this chapter details the research methodology of the thesis project. In this section, the author provides an outline of the research strategy, the research method and approach, the methods used for data collection, the sample selection, the research process, the analysis of the data, and the limitations of the project.


The research conducted with respect to this thesis was an applied one, not new. Several pieces of previous research on humanitarian and disaster logistics were reviewed to understand the issue of disaster logistics better and acquire an understanding of the various challenges that humanitarian logistics providers face. As such, this research took the form of new research but on a research subject that was already existing. The research will be conducted through a literature review of relevant disaster management as well as logistics information sources (Orcher, 2016).  Since humanitarian aid and disaster, logistics go together, as all the operations of humanitarian assistance are made up of logistics operations, information sources on humanitarian aid will also be reviewed.  Various recommendations for solving the identified problems will be provided and discussed.


To meet the objectives of the thesis project, qualitative research was undertaken.  Qualitative research is most appropriate when one is dealing with small samples (see table below (Miles & Huberman, 1994)). However, its outcomes are not quantifiable or measurable. The advantage of qualitative research over quantitative research is that it provides a complete analysis and description of the subject under investigation without limiting the scope of the research (Collis & Hussey, 2003). The success or effectiveness of qualitative research largely depends on the abilities and skills of the researcher. For this reason, the findings may not be reliable since a lot depends on the interpretation of the researcher and their personal judgments.

Qualitative research Quantitative Research
The aim is a complete, detailed description. The aim is to classify features, count them, and construct statistical models in an attempt to explain what is observed.
The researcher may only know roughly in advance what he/she is looking for. Researcher knows clearly in advance what he/she is looking for.
Recommended during earlier phases of research projects. Recommended during later phases of research projects.
The design emerges as the study unfolds. All aspects of the study are carefully designed before data is collected.
The researcher is the data gathering instrument. Researcher uses tools, such as questionnaires or equipment to collect numerical data.
Data is in the form of words, pictures or objects. Data is in the form of numbers and statistics.
Subjective – individuals’ interpretation of events is important, e.g., uses participant observation, in-depth interviews, etc. Objective: seeks precise measurement & analysis of target concepts, e.g., uses surveys, questionnaires etc.
Qualitative data is ‘richer’, time consuming, and less able to be generalized. Quantitative data is more efficient, able to test hypotheses, but may miss contextual detail.
Researcher tends to become subjectively immersed in the subject matter. Researcher tends to remain objectively separated from the subject matter.



For the purposes of this research, an inductive research approach was followed. The researcher began with a specific observation; that disaster logistics played an important role in disaster response, after which a literature review was conducted and generalized conclusions drawn from the observation and the research. The reason for using an inductive approach was that the approach takes into account the context where the research effort s active and is appropriate for small samples that produce qualitative data. The main downside to this approach is that it produces theories that are generalized and conclusions that are based on a small number of observations, affecting the research reliability (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011).


Due to minimal time for research, there were no interviews conducted for this research. A thorough literature review was used by the researcher as the primary means of data collection in this project. A number of questions were developed; the research questions, for which literature review was conducted in an attempt to provide answers. The research questions served as the guide towards the satisfaction of the objectives of the research. During the research, however, other related questions arose, which were also addressed through the literature review. The main questions used in the gathering of information for the compilation of this research paper were:

  1. What role does logistics play in the management of disasters and disaster response?
  2. What are some of the various disaster logistics providers involved in disaster management?
  3. What problems face disaster logistics providers in the management of disasters and the provision of humanitarian aid?
  4. What are some of the logistics lessons learned from the management of recent disasters?

Several news articles, disaster reports, disaster management books, reports of aid organizations, and disaster management publications were reviewed to acquire information on disaster logistics and its importance.


A wide range of literature materials is available in online libraries and other sources of credible academic information. For the purposes of this research, and to ensure that the data collected was relevant, only literature materials on logistics in the disaster and emergency contexts were reviewed. These included articles, journals, and books on humanitarian logistics, disaster management, and emergency logistics. In addition, articles and journals reporting experiences of disaster logisticians in the management of past disasters such as the Indian Ocean tsunami were also reviewed.


In the analysis of the information obtained from the literature review, the content analysis method was used. Content analysis is a type of research data analysis that involves categorized data or information into themes and sub-themes to make it comparable and easy to analyze. Content analysis helps in the simplification and reduction of information collected to a size that is manageable. It provides a way of structuring qualitative data in a way that meets the objectives of the research. The only possible risk in content analysis is a misinterpretation of the gathered data, which results in the generation of unreliable and untrue conclusions (Klaus & Bock, 2008).


The research did not involve any interviews or the use of questionnaires to collect firsthand information on disaster logistics and humanitarian logistics. The research fully depended on information from previous research and observations. Any errors made by past research may have compromised the findings of this research. However, several academic sources were used and their findings compared to ensure that the conclusions reached were justified.


RQ1: What role does logistics play in the management of disasters and disaster response?

When a disaster occurs, emergency supplies including food, water, shelter, and medicine need to be sent to the disaster area as fast as possible (Koseoglu & Yıldırımlı, 2015).  The provision of the necessary equipment and materials for reconstruction and rescue efforts is important in any disaster environment.  Such materials and equipment are only transferred and conveyed to the disaster area through disaster logistics operations.  Therefore, logistics play a crucial role in any disaster response operation. A huge portion of humanitarian aid activities and disaster management activities is composed of logistics activities (Koseoglu & Yıldırımlı, 2015).  Activities related to logistics are also the most expensive operations in disaster management.  More than eighty percent of disaster management operations consist of logistics.  A considerable portion of all the costs incurred in disaster management and humanitarian aid operations is used in the acquisition of equipment and materials necessary for rescue and reconstruction activities.  The remaining funds are used up in the transportation and storage of supplies, materials, and equipment (Koseoglu & Yıldırımlı, 2015). The role of logistics in humanitarian aid operations cannot, therefore, be ignored. With improved understanding of disaster logistics, accurate planning and implementation of logistics can be achieved, improving the success of humanitarian aid operations.

RQ2: What are some of the various disaster logistics providers involved in disaster management?

Disaster logistics comprises of activities such as acquisition (procurement), storage, transportation of supplies and personnel, facility management, assets management, information management, communication, and provision of security (Koseoglu & Yıldırımlı, 2015).  Disaster logistics providers, therefore, are all the organizations and agencies that provide these services to disaster regions or emergency regions.

RQ3: What problems face disaster logistics providers in the management of disasters and the provision of humanitarian aid?

Some of the challenges that face disaster logistics include infrastructural incapacity, lack of cooperation between and within humanitarian organizations, lack of adequate resources for preparedness and planning, lack of communication between the various players, logistics bottlenecks, and political interference. These problems can only be solved through proper cooperation between the various disaster logistics and relief providers.

RQ4: What are some of the logistics lessons learned from the management of recent disasters?

The concepts of disaster logistics and humanitarian aid, even though different, are somehow complementary and interconnected.  All the humanitarian relief operations consist of a large proportion of logistic operations.  There also exists a strong relationship between disaster management and disaster logistics.  This close relationship means that disaster logistics largely affect the success of all disaster management activities.  Humanitarian relief operations may be either national or international or both.  In any case, such procedures require cooperation between different organizations, people, and countries. As opposed to commercial or business logistics which only deals with the transfer of products and services from the producer or supplier to the consumers on time, with already determined distribution points and channels, disaster logistics cover wide regions and are executed in unknown locations under unfavorable conditions and dynamic demand.  This means that disaster logistics are highly complex and challenging.

Humanitarian aid operations rely on the speed of transportation of humanitarian aid services and supplies on time, at the right conditions, and inaccurate amounts to the people who need them at the disaster location.  Efficiency and effectiveness of disaster management and relief operations are determined by disaster logistics operations. Disaster logistics involve planning, implementation, and management of aid materials flow and storage.  Efficiency is of paramount importance in disaster logistics, as is the cost (Koseoglu & Yıldırımlı, 2015).  Disaster logistics functions include procurement, preparedness, storage, transportation, tracing management of inventory, and customs clearance.  For efficient and effective disaster logistics, there is a need for cooperation between non-governmental organizations and governments.  They also require the utilization of different methods of transportation.


At the heart of disaster operations, are logistics, which function as the bridge between disaster preparedness and disaster response.  Logistics bridges the distance between the procurement of supplies and their distribution at the field; the distance between the headquarters of a humanitarian organization and the field.  Logistics operations also allow for benchmarking after every disaster response operation for future improvement of efficiency in response.  Through adequate planning during the preparedness disaster management stage, logistics can be improved to ensure efficiency and effectiveness during relief operations.  Logistics operations are usually planned in four main stages – strategic planning phase, the preparation phase, before the disaster occurs, and after the disaster phase (Koseoglu & Yıldırımlı, 2015).  Planning for logistics has to include and consider different scenarios and alternatives, and has to be compatible with other disaster management plans.  Planning and forecasting are important for successful disaster logistics and disaster management.

Logistics planning is usually based on technical, geographical, physical, and political conditions (Koseoglu & Yıldırımlı, 2015).  For this reason, logistics plans have to consider flexibility to suit different situations or scenarios.  Moreover, different types of aid are necessary at different disaster management stages.  The type and nature of a disaster also impact the decision making and logistics challenges.  While little supplies are required during planning, more items are required to meet the needs of people during relief distribution.  Much more resources may be required later during the response to sustain the relief operation.  Logisticians have to consider such realities to ensure enough planning.  A huge challenge occurs when funds run out before the reconstruction stage.  Humanitarian organizations also face the challenge of acquiring adequate funds for mitigation and preparedness, as most donors only give during the response.  This often results in a competition between humanitarian organizations for the available resources.

It is during the preparedness stage that the supplies and services required for relief provision during a certain type of disaster are determined.  Plans for the responsible people and donations transportation and distribution are also made during the preparedness stage.  Teams are assigned their respective duties and the expected demand in case of a disaster event predicted.  Despite the importance of planning and the preparedness disaster management stage, humanitarian organizations still face problems in acquiring adequate resources for preparedness and planning.  Many donors insist that their funding and resources be used directly on the needs of disaster victims instead of being spent on the development of back-room operations or for planning.  As a result of this, training and preparation before the occurrence of a disaster are often neglected or unsuccessful (Murray, 2005).  There is a need for setting aside adequate money and resources for planning and organizing logistics activities during the preparedness stage.

Logistics activities must be integrated into humanitarian supply chain operations to improve and ensure efficiency.  Humanitarian supply chain operations such as administration of aid programs, budget management, coordination of all operations in the field, and donation running require logistics (Koseoglu & Yıldırımlı, 2015).  It is important to focus on improving humanitarian logistics to improve disaster response and minimize the impact of future disasters in the world. When a disaster occurs, water, food, and fuel end up becoming scarce. Disaster and humanitarian logistics are about the effective management of these supplies as they go in and out of the areas struck by disaster. A number of things can be done to improve the management of supplies during disaster management. For instance, a team or an individual can be designated to control the flow of supplies, and a partner organization can be relied on to manage the distribution of aid. Such operations are part of disaster logistics. The most important thing is to have disaster logistics and emergency plans already in place before the onset of disaster.

Disaster victims or survivors cannot survive for long without the provision of food and clean water. However, a problem exists as people rush to stores during and before a disaster to stock up supplies, resulting in empty store shelves. Food and bottled water become expensive commodities during disasters and their prices soar up, making them inaccessible to humanitarian agencies. It is important that water, food, medical supplies, and other crucial resources get to the people in need as soon as possible to save their lives. A strong supply chain management and partnerships come in handy during these situations. The disaster management environment is gain-sharing in nature. Therefore, partners and parties have the responsibility and a duty to provide assistance to disaster victims. They can do this through several ways. First, partners can increase their production activities in order to assist humanitarian organizations and governments with the provision of supplies. Increasing production would ensure that agencies in charge of provision of aid acquire adequate supplies for the operation.

Second, the partners and agencies that have a relationship with the humanitarian bodies can assist in the provision of suitable transportation and aid from their own logistics service providers. Finally, the partners may direct or reroute aid shipments to disaster areas and boost capacity. Another important aspect of disaster management and recovery efforts is the cleanup and maintenance after the disaster. A tsunami or hurricane, for instance, results in a lot of debris and fallen trees, fallen wires, destroyed power equipment and poles, severe environmental damage, and destroyed public property. It would also result in severe flooding, which would destroy buildings and homes, causing a lot of debris to move about the disaster region. There is a huge risk during such a disaster, especially where hazardous chemicals are involved. It is, therefore, important that disaster logistics providers prepare and set up suitable containers and vessels for the retrieval, transportation, and storage of hazardous substances and chemicals when disasters occur.

The timely extraction or retrieval of these hazardous substances, and the removal of debris is important in the process of getting the local community and economy back on track within a short period of time. The longer the period of time that things in the disaster-struck region remain non-operational, the more the cost of disaster management and relief provision rises. Effectively dealing with the cleanup and maintenance relies largely on on-the-fly decision making and reactive measures, as even if a plan is put in place many years before a disaster occurs, the response and logistics teams may run into a wall or encounter unforeseen challenges when it is times to act and respond. During a disaster, things do not always work out or happen as expected or planned. A disaster may, for instance, damage backup generators and relief supply points. Therefore, it is best to be ready to adapt to any eventualities and to remain flexible. This will enable the response and logistics teams to respond promptly to any unexpected occurrences when a disaster occurs.

Besides the provision and management of supplies for disaster victims during a disaster, disaster logistics providers are responsible for the acquisition and provision of supplies that are necessary for smooth response, such as fuel for vehicles and generators for backup power. During disasters, fuel depots and gas stations around the disaster area run out of supplies quickly. This is because people rush to these places at the onset of a disaster with their cars and extra containers for their generators and machinery for backup power. The demand for fuel escalates quickly, which leaves little fuel available for the people involved in disaster operations. Communication and response between the agencies and parties involved in disaster operations has to be concise, prompt, and accurate during the operations. It is important that there is real-time tracking to acquire information on supply trucks and vehicles used for other disaster response activities. This information is necessary to address the issue of availability of supplies to the people involved in response activities.

The logistics partners and agencies working together with humanitarian organizations can be in charge of monitoring where the supply vehicles and backup supply are and how far they are from the disaster region. Through this, the agencies and teams involved would be able to plan accordingly and make any necessary changes to ensure the success of their efforts. For instance, they could cut down on their consumption of available supplies such as fuel in the meantime to allow for the arrival of more supplies. The supply and demand patterns change significantly and abruptly during a disaster. Therefore, it is important and a must that disaster logistics plans take into account the possible shifts in demand and supply and adjust appropriately using actions such as speeding up production of supplies, speeding up the transportation of supplies, boosting manpower, and limiting distribution of supplies to avoid a crisis or runout. It is important to plan for contingencies and to be ready for the ever-changing demand and supply during the disaster response operations.

When a disaster strikes, there is usually no time to waste or make plans on how to respond. There is a need to act quickly and the lives of those affected by the disaster depend on the speed of response. Regardless of the type of disaster, the agencies involved in response have to be ready to respond quickly and get to the disaster area as soon as possible. It is important that the individuals involved in response be fully aware of their environment and be quick on their feet and in decision making. Even with chaos and confusion in the disaster area, a well arranged and prepared response team, can save the lives of many disaster victims and assist in the rebuilding of the affected communities. A number of factors play a crucial role in the management of disaster and disaster logistics. Communication, forecasting, and transport are some of the most important factors or elements in the effective management of disasters and the provision of relief. These factors have to be considered and adequately planned for during disaster preparedness and disaster logistics planning.

Arguably, communication is the most important factor in any disaster management operation. Disaster management operations are fast-paced. Therefore, the contact between agencies, teams, and individuals involved has to be seamless. Organizations such as the Red Cross, the United Nations, and the local agencies have to work together with the local government and organizations since the scale of disasters is usually huge. Communication between international humanitarian organizations, the local government, the media, and the first responders has to be efficient and seamless to guarantee speedy and effective response. A common approach that disaster response teams and agencies take to enable them to respond fast is decentralization. when things have to go through various parties before a decision is made, a lot of time is wasted, delaying response. When authority is decentralized, however, people are able to respond quickly and make necessary decisions in time. During a hurricane, for instance, the decentralization of authority may enable local managers of supermarkets and shops to provide water and food to the victims effectively and quickly, without having to request for permission or authorization every time the supplies are issued.

When a disaster occurs, communication begins locally. The initial planning and news are discussed amongst the local disaster management organizations such as the incident command centers and the emergency operations centers set up locally. This initial communication will be mostly face-to-face or through radio and telephone. Where information or news is sent through a medium that is not direct communication, it will be encrypted to keep it away from the general public and the media. When communication has finally been established between the organizations involved, it can then be sent to the public and the media outlets. This is because information given needs to be verified for accuracy before it is broadcasted to the public since it involves other people. For instance, information on the disaster victims needs to be accurate before being communicated to the people who have relations with them or connections to them.

Forecasting is another important element in disaster management operations. It is common knowledge that forecasting is a key part of disaster logistics. However, several things go wrong during disasters, even after forecasting and preparedness. Disasters are usually highly unstable occurrences that may be unpredictable. Therefore, organizations and workers need to be prepared for all possible scenarios. In addition, they need to be flexible to effectively respond to any unexpected eventualities. They must also be fully aware of the early disaster warning signs. For instance, weather patterns can be used as warning signs for hurricanes and tsunamis. Even though disasters cannot be prevented, utilizing experience, proper preparedness activities, planning, and observation can improve the chances of disaster victims receiving necessary relief to save their lives and get them back on their feet as soon as possible. Through forecasting and preparedness activities, humanitarian organizations can provide the necessary assistance to the victims of a disaster and minimize the rate of fatalities and destruction of property significantly.

Transportation is another key element of disaster management and disaster logistics. During the management of a disaster and response, the essential supplies such as food and clean drinking water are important for the disaster victims. The demand for these supplies increases when a disaster occurs, and they have to get to the victims in time. It is through transportation that the necessary supplies reach the disaster victims in time. Transportation is one of the main factors that contribute to disaster logistics and supply chain management. Transportation requires a lot of logistical planning to ensure efficiency. In many cases, the infrastructure systems of a disaster area are damaged severely. Railways, airports, and roads may be severely damaged during a disaster event. Trucks carrying supplies may not be able to access some regions and get to disaster victims if there are large objects and debris on the access roads. For this reason, alternative modes of supplies shipment have to be put in place during preparedness and the logistics planning needs to be adaptable to such challenges.

The management of a disaster is a huge operation that requires a lot of cooperation between various organizations and teams, a lot of forecasting and preparation, and the ability to adapt to different situations or flexibility of operations and plans. Every year, humanitarian organizations coordinate billions of dollars in aid to victims of natural disasters, civil conflicts, and wars (Thomas, 2003). The role of these organizations is to effectively mobilize supplies and funds, to manage them, and to distribute them to disaster victims after a disaster occurs. During the management of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the role of humanitarian logistics gained public recognition in disaster response operations. Disasters logistics activities represent the costliest element of disaster response operations (Thomas, 2003). Therefore, it is important to ensure that these activities are excellent and effective. The effectiveness of disaster logistics processes generates economies of resources, which can then be used to meet the requirements of disaster victims.

The quality of supplies and care provided, together with the response time, are crucial elements for the minimization and control of economic and social losses that arise after a disaster occurs. These important elements are largely influenced by the level of effectiveness of disaster logistics activities. A lot of attention and effort goes into the sourcing of aid and supplies, with very little being done on the improvement of the performance of disaster logistics in response operations. For this reason, disaster logistics have not been efficient in past disasters, resulting in inefficient relief operations. Disaster response requires proper planning and readiness, which is not achievable without efficient logistics. In the middle of a disaster response operation, even with uncontrollable and unpredictable conditions being experienced, disaster logistics continue to operate and ensure provision of relief supplies based on experience, formalized knowledge, and understanding that the survival of the disaster victims and the effectiveness of the entire response operation depend on logistics efficiency.

The importance of disaster logistics in any disaster management or response operation is undeniable. It would not be wrong to conclude that disaster logistics is the key to any disaster response operations and humanitarian aid mission. The degree of effectiveness and excellence of logistics operations in the disaster management environment greatly influence the main factors that reduce the economic and social impacts of a disaster – the quality of care, the quality of supplies provided, and the response time.


Disaster logistics is one of the most essential elements of the disaster management process.  Disaster or emergency logistics play an important role in all the stages of disaster management, as they form the bridge between disaster preparedness and disaster response, enabling emergency supplies to reach those who need them in the disaster field. The roles played by disaster and humanitarian logisticians can be summarized into seven main duties: mobilization of the response operation; evaluation and planning of the operation, which aims at identifying the possible disaster scenarios and the most necessary needs for purposes of implementing logistics processes during response operations; acquisition, which involves the identification of needs, the specification of needed products and services, the process of obtaining the sources, the definition and ordering of supplies, and supply management to ensure that the right supplies are delivered at the right time; warehousing and inventory management; distribution, which is the movement of supplies from the acquisition point to the demand region or disaster location; transportation of supplies to the field; quality control and monitoring of the response operations; coordination between involved agencies and organizations; and information management (Bastos et al., 2014).

Several challenges face disaster logistics.  Some of the main challenges confronting logistics in the humanitarian field include infrastructural incapacity, lack of cooperation between and within humanitarian organizations, lack of adequate resources for preparedness and planning, lack of communication between the various players, logistics bottlenecks, and political interference.  It is only through proper planning, especially during the preparedness stage that these challenges may be dealt with to improve efficiency during humanitarian relief operations. The plan ensures that logistics are appropriately integrated into the various supply chain management and disaster management operations.

There are some methods through which the challenges facing disaster logistics can be solved.  Since the demand for relief supplies is usually unstable, humanitarian logistics should seek to achieve more flexibility.  For instance, humanitarian organizations should supplement supplies that are stored in warehouses with the outsourcing of logistics services from reputable logistics organizations.  They may make arrangements with manufacturers for goods to be supplied when they need them (Murray, 2005).  It is important to realize the importance of local suppliers in the procurement process.  Most of the time, donations that are unsolicited clog up warehouses and airports, making it difficult for relief workers to manage them.  For this reason, humanitarian organizations ask donors to donate money instead of goods.  Relief workers may then acquire supplies locally to save costs and minimize delays.  They should also take advantage of technology systems to manage donated supplies and prioritize supplies. Color-coding should be used to categorize supplies depending on their nature.  Non-standard labeling makes it difficult for relief workers to distribute supplies efficiently.

Through uniform labeling of supplies and color-coding, supplies can be quickly sorted and distributed in the field of disaster relief operations.  Cooperation between agencies and organizations should be fostered to ensure that there is no confusion and duplication of supplies at the field (Murray, 2005).  Joint logistics centers may be used to collate and disseminate information to the relief agencies during disaster response.  To deal with the challenge of lacking enough resources and time to develop systems and providing training to relief workers between disasters, organizations should utilize logistics software.  Such software offers a way of managing supplies and provides an online repository where information on the relief channel can be obtained.  With such information, organizations may capitalize on experience to improve future logistics.  It is important that organizations and agencies start treating logistics as a function at the heart of disaster management operations. The role of humanitarian logistics should not be ignored in the processes of disaster management.  Improving disaster logistics will have a direct positive impact on the efficiency of disaster management and disaster response operations.


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