Logistics, GIS and Disaster Response, Post-Sandy

November 27, 2012  - By
Image: GPS World
An exercise in planning for months proves timely in light of Hurricane Sandy

By Art Kalinski

I was going to write about the increasing presence of social media at GEOINT 2012, but I’ll cover that next month since Hurricane Sandy made an exercise I attended last week more significant in its timeliness.

The Disaster Response Integrative Logistics Exercise was a joint effort of the Institute for Defense & Business and Lockheed Martin. Heading up the effort was retired U.S. Ambassador David Litt of the IDB and Corey Cook of Lockheed Martin. The almost week-long event was held at the Lockheed Martin Lighthouse located in Suffolk, Virginia, near Norfolk. The 65,000-square-foot high-technology facility is designed for experimentation and prototyping using analysis, modeling and simulation. It’s a reconfigurable command and control operations laboratory that permits participants to test and analyze concepts in a gaming environment.

The stated purpose of the disaster response exercise was: “Given the nature, frequency, location and severity of disasters, inter-organizational collaboration – to include the private sector – is becoming increasingly critical to the efficiency and effectiveness of logistics in disaster responses.”  The exercise involved more than a 100 participants from the private sector, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and military services. Lou Kratz, Vice president and managing director, Logistics and Sustainment, Corporate Engineering & Technology for Lockheed Martin, stated that “Today’s crisis response efforts generally struggle with effective logistics collaboration among the multiple public and private stakeholders engaged. With our 21st-century logistics capabilities and global resources available from the public sector and private organizations, together we can develop solutions that will help our communities and businesses recover more quickly and effectively after a crisis.”

And collaborate we did! The list of participants was quite extensive and quite diverse. To give you a sense of the attendees, here is a partial list of organizations represented:

  • commercial companies included DHL, Maersk, Florida Power and Light, Fluor, Home Depot, Walmart
  • federal government agencies included FEMA, DHS, GSA, HHS, USAID, State Department
  • military organizations included NAVSUP, NORTHCOM, USACE, USAF, USMC, USN, SOUTHCOM, National Defense University, USCG, NORTHCOM
  • NGOs included United Nations agencies, the Red Cross, Operation Blessing, Catholic Relief Services and many more.

Conference attendance was significantly impacted by Hurricane Sandy, which also highlighted its timeliness.  FEMA, USAID, USACE, and the Red Cross, who were confirmed attendees and were instrumental in the development of the DRIL exercise, were deployed to Hurricane Sandy just hours before the start of the event. Fortunately, attendance to the DRIL by multiple organizations and substitute personnel was still robust, allowing for a highly successful exercise.

Some of the exercise objectives included defining and understanding different agency logistics capabilities, leadership structures, institutional and regulatory obstacles, differences in cultures, missions and operating procedures while developing metrics to evaluate performance in disaster response efforts. To accomplish the objectives, all the participants were organized into four integrated teams that were then separated at times into functional teams and then reassembled with representatives speaking for each team to the entire group of attendees.

Since this was the first exercise of its type, it was a learning experience for all involved and focused on the basics of personnel interactions and group consensus.  Each participant had access to his or her own computer, common computer resources and pre-developed exercise parameters. There were many artificial assumptions presented to the teams, and the team members made even more assumptions and guesses as they worked through the individual scenarios. Most of the exercise consisted of reviewing the effects of Category 5 hurricanes hitting the Dominican Republic, South Florida and Virginia, so there was a domestic as well as international impact. We participated in our groups, listening to individual team members with specialized knowledge and experience, then prioritized the delivery of needed resources and services. As the exercises ramped up, there were many animated discussions in which basics such as water, food, shelter, medical, electric power and transportation infrastructure were prioritized and justification documented.

I made several observations to myself as the exercises progressed. First, there are definite cultural differences between federal, military, NGO and commercial agencies. Not bad differences, just different. Second, individual personalities can steer the group dynamics and outcomes. And third, situational awareness is critical to effective disaster response. Geospatial technology was not part of this first exercise, but would clearly have been valuable to provide a common operational picture. That level of complexity would not have been practical for this initial exercise, but it does lead me to the “Solutions” room next to the main exercise area.

In a space adjacent to the main exercise room was a “Solutions” room that showcased potentially helpful technologies. The room was open to exercise participants toward the tail end of the week. It consisted of a diverse assortment of commercial and government solutions that addressed some of the issues  the teams struggled with during the week. Examples include a new computer-based system developed by the Navy Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) that is similar to the commercial Kayak flight search system. The Transportation Exploitation Tool (TET) was explained to me by Greg Butler, division director, NAVSUP GLS Transportation, who initiated the effort. He explained that all too often resources are wasted flying parts or personnel on dedicated aircraft that are duplicate trips of other aircraft or ships with available space traveling to the same location. The new geospatial network scheduling system optimizes transportation resources across all branches of service and already saved the Navy $23M on a $750k investment.

Lockheed Martin displayed several technologies, including communications and data management technologies. One of the most interesting was its Hybrid Aircraft that was initially developed for military use. However, its ability to transport equipment and supplies efficiently to undeveloped sites while providing a persistent platform for communications and to collect and download imagery makes it a valuable asset for emergency response activities.  To learn more, view the following video.

A representative from NATO explained the NATO Civil-Military Fusion Center, including a map library and custom services. Several exhibitors demonstrated the use of social media, which can be a very valuable and timely source of information to build situational awareness during emergencies. A company I work with, Soft Power Solutions, integrates GIS resources such as Google, USGS, ortho and oblique imagery married to geographically placed social media to build situational awareness that is quite robust. It was especially dramatic that during demonstrations, a 7.2 earthquake was reported off the coast of Guatemala.  One could easily see the growing number of tweets that almost immediately confirmed the earthquake and level of damage. Here is a ShakeMap generated by USGS within minutes of the earthquake showing the level of impact on the Guatemalan coast (shown in yellow).

One of the exercise objectives was to develop metrics that would evaluate performance in disaster response efforts. There were many metrics developed that one would expect – roads open, electricity restored, utilities restored, etc. However, the one informal metric that was developed through personal experience of Florida emergency responders was the “Waffle House” metric. Waffle House is a ubiquitous restaurant chain with locations throughout the southeast. The Florida responders observed that driving from one county’s Waffle House to another open Waffle House was a good indicator that the location was in OK shape.  Since a Waffle House needs minimal staffing and utilities compared to larger restaurants, it was a good indicator as to how bad conditions were in the location. Perhaps someone will develop a “Waffle House Open” type GIS layer as a metric to “okayness.”  Sounds like a good thesis for a GIS graduate student.

Everyone who participated was enthusiastic about conducting another similar exercise. Planning is already underway to make that happen. I, for one, feel that this kind of exercise can have a significant positive impact on future disasters because it builds face-to-face relationships that are so valuable during actual events. I’m going to do what I can to help with a geospatial aspect in future exercises.