Field Investigation on the Comparative Performance of Alternative Humanitarian Logistics Structures (NSF-RAPID)

The project studies the comparative performance of the humanitarian logistic structures that emerged in response to the earthquake. This provides important lessons that may ultimately serve as a watershed moment for humanitarian logistics. Quite notably, while some prominent efforts experienced major delays in the distribution of supplies, other unheralded operations sometimes did so with great efficiency. By understanding the factors that explain degree of success and by assessing the scalability of successful operations, the research may open the doors to new paradigms of humanitarian logistics that can overcome the kind of challenges that hampered efforts in Haiti. The research team builds upon data collected in field trips, and creates the foundation for the integration of findings into models to support relief flows and operations. 

Field Research Trips:
January 2010:         Haiti (1)
                                   Dominican Republic (2)
                                   Florida (1);
February 2010:       Dominican Republic (1);
March 2010:            Haiti (2)
                                  Dominican Republic  (1)


  1. Identify typology and basic features of alternative humanitarian                   logistic structures that emerged in Haiti
  2. Gather insight into effectiveness, positives/negatives,                   manpower provided, coverage/extent of operations
  3. Gather data about flows of critical/non-critical supplies
  4. Gather data about the impact of preexisting conditions on                           post-disaster relief capacity
  5. Document lessons learned

Immediate Impact on Distribution Networks

Two Organizational and Operational Structures, Two Different Performances

Agency centric efforts Collaborative multi-agent
Efforts of large foreign aid agencies were hampered by:
* Lack of suitable interlocutors:              the earthquake impacted the      centers of power, thus                    removing their natural partners
* Difficulties in articulating efforts          with locals
    * Could not find enough                         manpower and trucks
    * Lack local knowledge                         needed for wide spread effort
    * Faced numerous security                   problems
* Very few points of distribution            (PODs) in place
    * Trying to deliver aid to tens of              thousands, led to some                    instability at PODs
    * Some individuals had to walk           miles to get aid
* Structural inertia made it difficult       to adjust to changing                            conditions
* Survivors forced to choose                 between maintaining social               ties by staying near their                   destroyed  homes or moving to        camps to better position                     themselves to receive aid
Created for another purpose, extended to humanitarian aid:
* Highly decentralized and                  redundant networks, with                   thousands of individuals in               Haiti/DR (the networks survived     the earthquake)
* They are locals, and knew and        trusted the other members
     * Did not report problems                     securing trucks, drivers, and             helpers needed; sufficient                 manpower for points of                     distribution (PODs)
     * Geographically distributed                and with local knowledge
     * Few security problems (they             were protected by the                         locals)
     * Enjoyed the trust of the                       population
* Their coverage enabled them to      organize the population,                    engage  their support in aid              distribution, and deliver to                  small groups of  people in                coordination with local                        community leaders

Some Key Lessons

  • Local distribution is the most challenging part of the humanitarian logistic process (in contrast, many planning efforts only focus on the transportation of the large flows of aid to the impacted area, not on PODs)
  • Engagement of the local community leadership—building on previously established relations—was key to the success of collaborative multi-agent networks
  • This brought to bear geographically distributed leadership, manpower, resources, and trust of population
  • These elements enable successful delivery operations

Some Preliminary Suggestions

  • Take advantage of the collaboration networks existing in large metropolitan areas: churches, social, aid groups…
  • Formalize a Humanitarian Logistics Collaborative Network comprised of all legitimate groups
  • Train their leaders and members in risk management, first aid, humanitarian logistics
  • Designate their locales as official Points of Distribution (POD)
  • If a disaster strikes, the PODs will be activated and manned by the locals to distribute the aid
  • This Collaborative would be the backbone of the final leg of distribution efforts
  • Government aid efforts would focus on transportation of large volumes of cargo to the impacted area that will flow into the collaborative network for final distribution

Reports and Presentations


Integrative Freight Demand Management