MECHANICSBURG, Pa. –
Editor's Note: March is National Reading Month. Everyday reading increases knowledge and develops personal and professional skills. Throughout the month, the DLA Disposition Services Pathways to Career Excellence program participants are sharing insights from books* they recently finished. *No official Department of Defense endorsement implied.
What happens after a disaster? Imagine a sudden onset event destroys roads, damages homes, and limits cellular service. Where would you turn for necessary supplies as you begin recovery?
You do not have to think too hard because humanitarian logisticians are on the case. “Humanitarian Logistics: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing for and Responding to Disasters,” compiled by Peter Tatham and Martin Christopher, examines just this question.
I chose to read “Humanitarian Logistics” because the theme directly relates to the mission of the Defense Logistics Agency. Our organization offers support to both domestic emergencies and disasters abroad. We have responded to the current pandemic, earthquakes and humanitarian crises.
Humanitarian logistics encompasses everything from procurement planning to the final delivery of goods and services to the affected recipients. I wanted to learn more about the special considerations these situations involve.
Humanitarian crisis response and limited contingency operations require high levels of coordination. Responders work together with local governments and nongovernmental organizations. Partnerships work best when collaborators prepare before the emergency, embrace professionalization in the humanitarian sector, and work within their established roles.
While no one can predict exactly where the next disaster will strike, we know that a disaster will inevitably strike. Humanitarian-logistics professionals work to assess high-risk areas and make special considerations for vulnerable populations.
Tangible preparations, like pre-positioned supplies, can reduce the amount of time required to get goods to people. This approach speeds up relief but is often not feasible—many nongovernmental organizations cannot maintain stockpiles indefinitely. Less tangible preparations can offer more value and versatility. Humanitarian logisticians can prepare by training, building relationships, making supply chain contacts, investing in technology, and practicing disaster drills. Relief partners can multiply the positive effects of preparation by regularly working together long before their services are needed.
The humanitarian logistics sector is working to become more professional. While logisticians already contribute to important relief work, their services are often limited to a supporting role. Industry leaders are calling on organizations to include logisticians in every part of their missions. Early logistician involvement creates more resiliency, reduces costs and improves relief services. Increasingly, nongovernmental organizations are including senior logisticians in their executive leadership teams.
To help meet the growing demand for trained humanitarian logisticians, universities and logistics associations are developing professional certificates. Curriculums cover relief-logistics theories and practices.
Allowing humanitarian logisticians to do their best work is important to successful disaster response. While government and nongovernmental logisticians both work to benefit those impacted by crisis, actors must be mindful of their roles.
Most nongovernmental relief organizations are founded on the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence. On the surface, stronger government and nongovernment partnerships make sense. The relationships between the two are more complex. In accepting or declining government assistance, organizations must consider their long-term ability to offer humanitarian relief.
Preparation, professionalism and the distinction of various actors are just a fraction of humanitarian logistics. Overall, I have a greater appreciation of the specialty. I look forward to applying these lessons in the future and I am excited about the work our agency does to provide humanitarian relief.
“Humanitarian Logistics: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing for and Responding to Disasters” is available through LMS/Skillsoft for DLA associates.