Friday, May 30, 2008

FEMA's Revised Logistics Operation

The Federal Times takes a look at FEMA's revised logistics operation:

“Katrina showed we did not have the capability in place to replenish what we had,” said Eric Smith, FEMA’s national logistics coordinator. “Our reliance was too much on what we had in stock.”

FEMA has developed several new approaches to disaster preparation. One is transparency: making visible to everyone concerned what FEMA has in stock — items such as blankets, generators and portable housing units.

Another is partnerships with first responders, such as the Red Cross, which is often first on the scene with first aid, food and temporary housing, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which is charged with providing ice, water and emergency power.

Also, FEMA has forged a closer link with the Defense Logistics Agency to help it provide fuel, food, water, cots, blankets, “anything in their inventory,” Smith said.

Tom Essig, chief procurement officer at the Homeland Security Department, FEMA’s parent agency, gives another example.

“After Katrina, FEMA bought ready-to-eat meals. We don’t do that now. Now we contract. When we need it, we provide it. We don’t buy and store any more. We buy the service, which includes the transportation. The companies themselves are responsible for the logistics of transportation,” Essig said.
This is more in line with FEMA's structure and purpose. FEMA is not supposed to be a massive agency that stockpiles emergency supplies and delivers them in the event of a disaster. FEMA is a relatively small agency that needs the authority (and often the political cover) to direct other, larger agencies to do what needs to be done.

As Katrina showed, situational awareness and communications are two more critical requirements for FEMA. The best logistics system in the world won't do you any good if you don't have information on what is needed where, or if those needs can't be communicated.

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