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The Role Of Logistics In Disaster Management


Hurricane Florence has brought 10-foot storm surges and 100-mile-an-hour wind gusts to parts of coastal North Carolina. Emergency responders from elsewhere with trucks full of relief supplies are assembling just outside of the hurricane's path. And from there, they will work to reach the hardest-hit communities. NPR's David Schaper has this look at the critical role of logistics in rescue and recovery efforts.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: As high winds knock down trees and floodwaters rise, Sacramento, Calif., Fire Captain Dave Lauchner waits outside of a long-closed Kmart superstore in Raleigh, N.C., for the massive storm to pass.

DAVE LAUCHNER: We're here with a 16-person swift water rescue team. And we're prepared for whatever this hurricane brings, whether it's flooding, collapses, anything. We've got enough equipment to take care of whatever needs to be done.

SCHAPER: The team from Sacramento joins more than 400 other search and rescue personnel from Ohio, New Hampshire and 14 other states at a staging area from which they can deploy. It's one of dozens of similar hurricane response staging areas in mall and stadium parking lots and unused warehouses. FEMA's Alex Amparo says it's critical that these staging areas be strategically located - close, but not too close to the hurricane's path. And Amparo says these emergency response centers are chock-full of goods.

ALEX AMPARO: Supplies and commodities, food, water, specialized equipment in urban search and rescue, swift water rescue - all of those items have been mobilized into the area.

SCHAPER: After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it took weeks to get enough search and rescue teams into flooded neighborhoods in New Orleans and to small coastal Mississippi towns that were annihilated by the huge storm surge. Among the lessons learned from that botched response and from other disasters is having enough personnel, equipment and supplies staged close by. And that's true not just for the government, but for nonprofit groups too. Greg Forrester is with a coalition of such aid groups.

GREG FORRESTER: Many of our organizations all have warehousing capabilities across the nation, a little over 40 warehouses with standard supplies that we have found are useful post-disaster. And so we work with our partners to go ahead and make sure that they're staged where they need to be.

SCHAPER: In that regard, another key partner is the U.S. military and National Guard units.

KATHY FULTON: They have tremendous assets that they can bring to bear. Right? They have the logistics staging areas, and they have the resources. And they have the manpower.

SCHAPER: That's Kathy Fulton, who heads the American Logistics Aid Network, which was created after Katrina to better coordinate logistics efforts of relief organizations. She says the military's expertise in moving goods, equipment and manpower is nearly unrivaled. But another key partner is the private sector.

FULTON: Businesses do these types of activities day in and day out. We know how to respond. We know how to get supplies into areas.

SCHAPER: Fulton uses Superstorm Sandy as an example in comparing the military's logistics feats to that of the commercial sector.

FULTON: All of the supplies that went into Afghanistan, you know, the - however many tons of supplies went in there, the commercial supply chains in New York City did that volume in two weeks.

SCHAPER: Amazon and others' logistics pipelines are that good. Previous disasters always provide lessons for the next big one. And Hurricane Florence is putting the supply chains and logistics planning to the test right now. David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.