Flirting with Disaster? - SUMA's Humanitarian Supply Management System

The logistics of disaster relief projects using supply management technology and the complex relationships between numerous parties tackling a series of natural disasters in El Salvador are mined for key lessons and their pertinence to future international rescue projects. The case analyses the management of the series of disasters and lays out key learning points for such projects in the future with special relevance for international multi-partner projects.

by Luk Van Wassenhove, Rolando Tomasini

On Saturday 13 January 2001, an earthquake occurred in El Salvador at 11:33AM local time. Although natural disasters are nothing new in El Salvador, it remains very vulnerable with one of the highest population densities in the world and half its people living in urban areas. Extreme poverty, political unrest and the effects of a violent 12-year civil war made relief operations more complicated than was customary with such natural phenomena, stirring factions and exacerbating tensions. The earthquake, measuring 7.6 on the Richter Scale, affected a wide swathe of territory, wiping out entire neighborhoods and roads. There was no time to waste.

This case, Coordinating Disaster Logistics after El Salvador’s Earthquakes using SUMA’s Humanitarian Supply Management System, written by Rolando M. Tomasini, Research Associate, and Luk N. Van Wassenhove, the Henry Ford Chaired Professor in Manufacturing at INSEAD, looks in detail at the internal dynamics and logistics of the disaster rescue and relief project.

Among the earthquake’s many immediate victims was the national emergency relief agency (COEN), which lost its headquarters and was forced to relocate. The magnitude of the disaster did not escape the international community, and within hours the first planes arrived with donations, to be followed by hundreds more over the next few months. While the generous support was appreciated it required a logistics operation on a scale parallel to the magnitude of the damage. For this purpose, COEN made a regional disaster agreement with FUNDESUMA, a Costa Rican non-profit organisation experienced in this type of operation, which would provide transparency and accountability and was supported by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO). Within a day, experts had already deployed the supply management system (SUMA) to track all incoming donations, standardize storage and handling, and facilitate the distribution with inventory reports and needs assessments.

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