When Mother Nature unleashes her full fury, as happened with Superstorm Sandy, who do you call for help? Who keeps things moving?
That job falls primarily to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. When disaster looms, the agency's staff and volunteers swing into action. They fire up staging areas, coordinate with local authorities, and generally get the ball rolling. While often maligned, they do it better than anyone else. They also do it with a lot of help from other federal, state, and local agencies, as well as volunteers groups like the Red Cross and, of course, ALAN, the American Logistics Aid Network. As FEMA administrator Craig Fugate notes, "It is a big team effort."
At its core, disaster relief is essentially logistics management under very trying circumstances. While the folks at FEMA leverage anything and everything from a spectrum of sources to bring relief to bear, FEMA relies heavily on the military. Not just the National Guard, but the real live, no-kidding combat logisticians who can step into the middle of a war zone and keep supplies flowing.
To find out how the Department of Defense answered the call from FEMA in the days after Superstorm Sandy, we followed a thread all the way back to the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). As America's combat logistics support agency, the DLA provides nearly 100 percent of the consumable items America's military forces need to operate, from food, fuel, and energy to uniforms, medical supplies, and construction equipment. It can keep things moving in the most trying of circumstances, up to and including war. So it's natural that FEMA would turn to DLA for support during times of crisis. In fact, there's a defined request mechanism in place for that, according to Army Col. Roger McCreery, DLA's Joint Logistics Operations Center (JLOC) chief.
As of December, DLA had provided 6.2 million meals, 72,000 liters of bottled water, 172,500 blankets, 4,000 cots, and over 9 million gallons of fuel and heating oil to areas hard hit by Sandy. It also delivered over 100 pumps to drain flooded areas, 50 generators to supply power to vital installations, and 500 sets of cold weather clothing to keep first responders going. The agency even brought in six portable X-ray machines. And these are just a few of the highlights.
One of the most challenging problems faced by combat logisticians is "the last tactical mile." How do you get the supplies to exactly where they're required, under the most trying of circumstances? Think about tanks in wartime. How do you get fuel to where it is needed on the front line?
Now, instead of tanks, think about getting fuel to first responders in the middle of a disaster. The commercial delivery network for fuels had collapsed—everyone saw the waiting lines on television—but the ambulances and police cars still needed to roll. That problem fell squarely in DLA's lap.
In the end, DLA delivered over 800,000 gallons of fuel—teaming up with Foster Fuels, a commercial partner of DLA—to first responders at 10 sites in New York and 10 in New Jersey. While the commercial supply chain struggled to recover and get gas stations back in business, DLA was able to keep ambulances and other emergency vehicles running.
On Nov. 28, the Defense Logistics Agency's director, Navy Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek, visited the DLA distribution site in New Cumberland, Pa., to thank the staff for its post-Sandy relief efforts. "Whether it was meals to West Virginia or to New York," said Harnitchek, "it all got there when you said it would get there."
America, and especially those in coastal New York and New Jersey, echoes the admiral's thanks.