Responding to Typhoon Haiyan a Logistics Fiasco…or Am I missing something??

I have been involved in Supply Chain Management at every level for almost 30 years. Most of this time has been spent in the FMCG sector and I have had experience at all levels of the Supply Chain (most in a Management capacity). I now lecture and consult with businesses on various aspects of SCM.

When I lecture students (would be Supply Chain Managers of the future) I continually encourage them to look outside their industries at the other things going on in the world. I suggest that they continually survey the global horizon to see what’s going on and to pay particular attention to anything that might affect their ability to meet their customer’s needs.

In my instructing on this concept, I highlight many examples ranging from 9/11 to hurricanes to wars, in fact ANYTHING that will potentially affect the efficiency of their supply chains. My point is to get them to build and develop flexible and adaptive supply chains. The importance of a flexible supply cannot be overestimated when many in business today are seeking to develop Lean processes and World Class businesses.

My experience in the FMCG sector has proven the need for flexibility and adaptability. The very nature of the industry; Fast Moving, highlights the need to be able to overcome ‘blips’ in the supply chain and maintain service levels.

With the importance of flexibility and adaptability a focus of many in the commercial world, it has mystified me that the world’s reaction to the Humanitarian crisis caused by Typhoon Haiyan appears to have been so inefficient.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I cannot understand how it took almost a week to get aid to affected areas especially when the world knew the Typhoon was coming AND that it would be one of the biggest ever experienced.

Satellites were tracking the typhoon from it’s birth. As a global community, we knew the path it was taking and, knowing how strong it would be and the conditions where it was due to hit land, it was not a stretch of the imagination to speculate on the amount of damage that would be caused.

Yet, apart from trying to evacuate people from its path, very little appears to have been done to organise the aid supply chain. In fact, after the event, I saw an interview with a member of the International Red Cross who explained the delay in getting aid to affected areas by saying that after the disaster, the IRC would send in inspectors to audit the area and only after these people reported back would aid be organised. I find this incredible if true.

Surely, the global relief supply chain should have being moving aid into staging points outside the path of the Typhoon (or even follow the path of the storm). That way, relief materials would have been closer to the affected areas and on the ground much earlier than almost a week after the event. I saw one news report on the BBC where an RAF transporter left the UK on Friday 15th bound for the Philippines. The reporter said that the supplies wouldn’t arrive in the Philippines until Saturday 16th; a full 8 days AFTER the devastation.

I know that some will argue that what aid is required cannot be identified until after the investigators have gone into the affected areas and conducted their surveys. To this argument, I say that the relief needed in any disaster of this magnitude is always the same; Food, Water, Medical Supplies and Shelter. Surely even organising these supplies would be of benefit.

Typhoon Haiyan is not unique in this failure of relief supply chains. I recall similar complaints from those affected by Hurricane Katrina in the US and more from those affected by Superstorm Sandy.

So how do we get it so wrong?

Why does it take so long for supplies (aid) to get to the customer (victims of a natural disaster). I appreciate that earthquakes, volcanoes, etc. happen without warning. However, Hurricanes, Typhoons and Superstorms are known about and seen as they grow and strengthen. While the focus, correctly, of many is the evacuation of people from the path of such storms, I believe the knowledge of such storms and their paths should also trigger the global relief supply chain.

When the strength and direction of a storm is known and, when damage, death and despair is a certainty, surely materials should start moving. Key relief materials should be moved to staging posts close to, but outside the path of storm areas. Alternatively, materials should be routed to follow the path of a storm (storms rarely go into reverse!).

Supply Chain Management teaches the need to manage a supply chain to ensure products are available for the customer as and when the customer needs them. In a disaster scenario as seen in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, the products in question are the basics needed for survival; food, water and medical supplies. The customers are the people affected by the storm. Those whose houses and villages were levelled. Those left without aid for almost a week.

Why were basic SCM processes not implemented?

In my mind, there is no logical answer…Or am I missing something??