Logistics in Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Elaboration, 2018

13 Pages

Free online reading




Literature Review and Definitions


Future Research




Logistics, a broad all encompassing term, is nothing new. It has been responsible for winning and losing wars as well as proving businesses successful or failed. Modern technology has greatly improved accountability systems of the supply chain warehouses and distribution efficiency with statistical formulas and spreadsheets to calculate travel times, driver rest cycles, and fuel consumption. Logistics for businesses means profits. On the other hand, logistics for Homeland Security and Emergency management means saving innocent lives. Logistics within Homeland Security and Emergency Management, while structurally the same, has become a more important field of study due to the effects it has on both responding to a disaster as it does securing the US from international threats. Despite the growth of interest in logistics, there are many problems that still hinder the Department of Homeland Security’s mission of protecting the US and Emergency Managers planning and executing logistic operations during a time of crisis.

Key words: Logistics, Disaster Logistics, Staging Area, Point of Distribution (PODs), Procurement, Surge, Communication, Supply Chain Management


When looking holistically at Homeland Security and Emergency Management, many are quick to think large-scale international and domestic threats along with large-scale natural and man-made disasters. Assumptions derived from that thought process relate the Homeland Security and Emergency Management field to analysts in cubbies preventing cyber, domestic, and international terrorist attacks and “boots on ground” first responders saving the day after a devastating attack or disaster. While we should continue to do so and give credit to the selfless service of those willing to take on these perils, we must look at one of the most overlooked underlying events or methods that promote success. This critical piece of the puzzle that is involved with every aspect of Homeland Security and Emergency Management that promotes success or failure is logistics.

“Nothing happens until something moves” is an old adage that many within the US Army’s Transportation Corps will quickly remind you when confronted with their selection of military occupational specialty (MOS). While relevant and critical, transportation is only a portion of the logistics field. Nothing is heard of or about logistics when everything is going smoothly or according to plan. However, when something does not make it on time or is the wrong item or count, logisticians take the heat for the failed operation. Logistics can be considered a tedious, complicated, and to some, considered boring. For the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, logistics is an essential to carry out the rigors of protecting the US and responding to disasters.

This paper will primarily focus on the field of logistics and emergency management. What structures are currently used in surge capabilities during and post disasters, planning cycles, and technologies involved and the homeland security portion of the interaction with the border security aspect of daily imports. While there is a limited amount of data analyzing the field of logistics and its’ role in Homeland Security and Emergency Management, much can be learned from previous failed events and through the financial struggles faced with efficient and effective logistics. Furthermore, the increasing technological field of logistics provides both a more streamlined planning and execution cycle but can pose an undesirable reliance on technology that can potentially fail under a time of need.

Literature Review and Definitions

Logistics defined by the US Council for Supply Chain Management includes, “inbound and outbound transportation management, fleet management, warehousing, materials handling, order fulfillment, network design, inventory management, supply/demand planning, management of third party services providers, sourcing and procurement, production planning and scheduling, packaging and assembly, and customer service” (Cowen, 2010). While often overlooked due to its non-glamorous nature, efficient and effective logistics is a key necessity that can make any response or recovery operation a successful or a failed operation. Furthermore, unmonitored logistics could possibly support a terrorist’s plot against the US while at a weakened state. While the purpose of this study is primarily looking at the way agencies within the Emergency Management side of the Department of Homeland Security, it is important to consider the impact a terrorist could have in disrupting an emergency management’s operation in a time of need.

According to Kapucu, Lawther, & Patterson (2007), defining disaster logistics is seen as “the capability to identify, dispatch, mobilize, and demobilize, and to accurately track and record available critical resources throughout all incident management phases.” Emergency managers are faced with making hard decisions under pressure that can result in saving lives and money, one or the other, or the opposite end of the spectrum, losing savable lives and wasting money. Creativity and flexibility are key to success. To serve as guidelines for emergency management logistics field at the federal level, the National Response Plan (NRP) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continually seek ways to help the state and local agencies in the preparation, recovery, and response phases. Despite their efforts however, there are still no official documents or policies governing local and state logistics planning or execution.

Within disaster logistics there are two focus areas that emergency managers should have pre-designated during the planning phase and keep close under their supervision during the response and recovery phases. These two areas are the staging area and points of distribution (PODs) (Kapucu et al, 2007). Staging areas are normally a pre-designated area that is either in or near a disaster area in which personnel and equipment are consolidated before being sent off into the disaster area. Similarly, PODs are locations that are large enough to receive donations of supplies to include but not limited to: food, water, medical supplies, tools, etc. Both focus areas can be located at multiple places: public or private parking lots or open fields as long as the location is close to the disaster area, has accessible entry and exit avenues of approach, and can be easily secured in some fashion.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has established and provides models for three classification categories for staging area and PODs. Classification levels, Type I through Type III, are based off of the community population, output, and intake capabilities. A Type I, being the largest, can facilitate serving 20,000 people a day, consists of 12 loading points, and can support receiving four loads of water and ice, and two loads of MREs. The Type II and Type I levels progressively get smaller with the Type II reducing capability to half of the Type I and the Type III reducing capability to serving 5,000 people, 3 loading points, and 1 load per day of supplies. While these areas can be tailored to meet the local community’s needs, expand or diminish, emergency managers must remain flexible in decision making but ensure that structures such as staging areas and PODs are “solid fixtures” during the planning of emergency operations (Kapucu et al, 2007).

As with any type of planning, emergency managers’ logistics plan must also account for their staging areas and PODs to endure a surge. Barbisch & Koenig (2006) provides the Webster’s dictionary definition of a surge being “to rise suddenly to an excessive or abnormal force.” The ability for an emergency manager to surge their logistical structures is imperative to overall success. More times than not, a surge will happen at the most inconvenient time. Both planned and unplanned surges will test the logistical framework emplaced. Shifting resources to accommodate a surge must be a seamless process while there is no loss to current steady state operations being conducted.

While the main focus and attention of logistics focuses on transporting supplies, managing supplies, and scheduling to ensure input and output, the ability of an emergency manager to manage the procurement portion of logistics can be controversial due to the scope, nature, and scrutiny of handling money during an emergency. Procurement, though sometimes mislabeled as purchasing, is the actual act or process of obtaining goods through purchasing and is a strategic, process-oriented activity (Stock & Lambert, 1993). The procurement process is generally done through “fair market research” and takes into account quality versus quantity, speed of production and speed of delivery. Though primarily a time consuming process, emergency managers must have established relationships and pre-researched vendors that can preform the demand of an emergency operation at a moment’s notice. Emergency managers must also have pre-typed procurement contracts and/or agreements that can easily be routed for approval by the approving authorities. Furthermore, emergency managers must be aware of bureaucratic processes that can hinder an operation. These restrictions and guidelines may be broken during a time of need in some cases. However, the after action repercussions can lead to dramatic actions being taken out on the emergency manager regardless of the situation outcome.

In order to assist emergency managers in planning and responding logistically to a disaster, a real-time decision support system has been created to formulate the multi-commodity supplies needed during a disaster (Sheu, 2007). This statistical based decision support tool utilizes three liner formulas that can assist emergency managers if they are familiar or have the personnel that can calculate for them. Models are based on number of vehicles and load types with known locations of distribution, preferred vehicle configuration, non-preferred vehicle configuration, and supply-demand factors. However, as many of these formulas have proven complicated and under utilized, emergency managers have continued to turn to a model of breaking down the large scale logistics footprint to multiple sub-problems. Once created into sub-problems, systematically solving each sub-problem in the support tool builds the same result of solving the large-scale issue (Sheu, 2007).

Outside of general business logistics that have certain factors and variables, logistic plans and systems being utilized by emergency managers during a disaster have limited to no theory developed as to the complexity and the vast amount of different scenarios that can unfold. However, Sheu (2010) applies the time-series theory with the relief-demand management forecasting in order to present a model for emergency managers to base their planning and structure their responses during a disaster. This model is a best fit due to the uncertainties of relief-demand situation. The model addresses emergency logistics in three mechanisms that take place in uncertain conditions and/or disorder: dynamic relief-demand forecasting, affected area grouping, and identification of relief-demand urgency. Dynamic relief-demand forecasting phase is composed of known number of personnel within a community, known number of fatalities, and estimated trapped or lost personnel. Understanding these two factors can begin the relief-demand forecasting for both equipment and supplies. Affected-area grouping phase simply allocates relief-demand needs by clustering affected areas by severity of damage. Clustering by severity, this process then assists efficient distribution of supplies to each area without loss of efficiency by moving supplies more than once. Lastly, identification of relief-demand urgency phase directs the priority of support by severity of impact. Each phase provided by Sheu (2010) has a statistical method of calculating each phase. Despite the statistical complexity of the formulas, an efficient and effective emergency manager that knows and understands their community can utilize this model without the statistical methods to respond.


In the emergency planning cycle provided by FEMA, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery, a heavy reliance on logistics can be seen in all but the mitigation phase (Kapucu et al, 2007). Despite the heavy reliance and known affect logistics has to the emergency management field, the uniqueness and difficulty of logistics planning and execution during a time of crisis can be seen in four aspects. The first challenge is the severity of the destruction. There is no standard amount or type of supplies needed, the area affected can be smaller or larger than predicted, key travel routes or areas designated as staging areas or PODs destroyed, and there is a high level of uncertainty while first responders are collecting death counts during search and rescue operation. Second, unlike business models of logistics, resources needed will not always match the supply chain managements’ stockage levels causing a reduction in efficiency during quick responses. Third, damage conducted during the disaster may incur additional risks to supply distribution. Lastly, more focused at the federal level, international relief for large-scale emergencies can complicate the system with international standards and bog down the supply-demand imbalance (Sheu, 2007). Further unique complications arise in logistics after a disaster with route selection (Zhang, Zhang, Zhang, Wei & Deng, 2012). While basic in concept, factors such as traffic from evacuees and/or critical avenues of approach destruction from initial or secondary disaster affects. Travel times used for planning considerations are often affected greatly and secondary avenues of approach may not be able to support large, heavy supply loads.

The assumed primary focus in emergency management logistics during a time of crisis is geared towards getting supplies in the affected area. However, a more difficult logistics to handle is outbound logistics (Ben-Tal, Chung, Mandala & Yao, 2011). Outbound logistics can present itself when critical supplies or personnel must be removed and relocated from an affected area. Finding the balance and utilizing the incoming transportation resources to effectively bring in critical supplies for first responders while serving a dual purpose of removing the wounded and deceased personnel and/or critical resources can create a loss of command and control while insinuating more confusion.

While these situations normally happen with international aid missions, domestic emergency managers must also consider the impacts that outbound logistics will make on the operation if they are faced with a devastation that requires mass movements of personnel and supplies out of their area of operation. To assist with outbound logistics, Ben-Tal et al. (2011) provide charts and statistical equations that can assist emergency managers react to the demand of outbound logistics. Both charts utilize a S-curve model for uncertainty while providing the minimum, average, and maximum demand possibilities over time. This allows emergency managers to forecast and set expectation management during an elevated emotional state of both the community affected and the higher authorities monitoring the situation.

Additional concerns are generated from a Homeland Security aspect when analyzing border and transportation security after a disaster. Rapid movement or redirection of supplies from ports to an affected area is in many cases time sensitive. Interference with globalized supply chains and logistics systems create a potential threat to the ever-growing trade security of supply chains. Many large organizations that specialize in supply chain management and assist in times of need, primary example of Wal-Mart, spend a significant amount of time and money lobbying against Homeland Security measures due to the disruption of efficiency with expansive supply chain security (Cowen, 2010). While emergency managers do not have much of an affect on these issues, they must constantly monitor and understand the possible impacts that can occur during a time of need. Critical supporting agencies that are an asset for informing and providing current affects from Homeland Security Measures being taken is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Both organizations closely monitor policies being implemented and lobbied for that have impacts on the North American Free Trade Agreement. Furthermore, they both assist in implementing current policies and can assist emergency managers in planning operations by understanding large-scale disaster relief capabilities (Cowen, 2010).

As with any field within the Homeland Security and Emergency Management, logistics without coordination, constant and effective communication, and control will negate any and all capability advancements. The four critical “Cs” provided by Comfort (2007), cognition, coordination, communication, and control, are terms that create the basis of successful logistics. Further, when emergency managers have these Cs in place, a common operating picture is created for the disaster area. Logistics can then in turn be utilized to full efficiency and streamline response and recovery operations. Struggles facing emergency managers logistics plans, outside of general poor planning, come with the technological side of communications and control. A great portion of control is rooted in communications. Controlling logistics is no different. The ability to communicate outside of primary means, cell phones, radios, and email, is reliant upon new emerging technology. However, despite technology being recognized as a major factor in communications, interoperability between emergency managers, civilian supply chain management warehouses, and civilian transportation assets can cause significant delays and break efficient logistic operations (Kupucu, Arslan, & Demiroz, 2010). Emergency managers are lacking systems that universally request, process, and track supplies that are being distributed by multiple private sector companies and/or distributors.

During a mass response to a disaster, this lack of technology and interoperability to provide in-transit-visibility hinder emergency manager’s ability to create a common operating picture of the supply chain. Inability to communicate with, track, and redirect supplies as situations change hinder operations significantly. Reliance on partners and relationships creating during the preparation phase are critical to overcome this gap in keeping the lines of communication open. Additional issues that face emergency managers communication and control of the logistics plan is a lack of a shared common language (Kapucu et al, 2010). From private sector to governmental agencies, each supply chain has a foreign language it specifically understands. In turn, misinterpretation during information sharing hinders logistics with the lack of technology and interoperability.

Future Research

The logistics field is always expanding. From technological advances in planning, communication, supply chain management, road networks, and globalization, the race to continually improve drive experts within the field to constantly adapt and refine. Logistics within emergency management is no exception. After researching logistics in the homeland security aspects of it, much of the research that has been conducted does not get into the details on how agencies with the Department of Homeland Security plan, coordinate, and conduct daily operations utilizing logistics. A comprehensive study that analyzes how each agency within the department conducts logistic steady state operations and planning tools compared to how large private sector business would greatly improve the way emergency managers plan and execute operations. Furthermore, the field would gain valuable information on what systems and planning tools should be used to save the department both time and money.

Further research to conduct would be generated toward implementation of systems to help emergency managers communicate with and track in/outbound supplies during a crisis. Questions during this research to consider are: Are systems already available on the civilian market? If so, can we tie into them? Should we create a system that can provide in-transit-visibility, or will it be an ineffective and too costly to upkeep? Many more questions can be derived for emergency managers improving logistics during a disaster. As such, there should and continually be questions regarding improving logistics. For emergency managers, logistics equals lives.


Logistics within the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will continually be improved upon to meet the demands of society. Rightly so, the demands on the department are high due to the fact that they are entrusted with protecting the lives of the country’s citizens. Many tools have been established to assists emergency managers in planning, coordinating, and executing logistical plans during a time of crisis. However, emergency managers must continually find ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness while mitigating shortfalls that can present themselves after a disaster. Concurrently, emergency managers must keep and share records of lessons learned after a crisis. One tool created from emergency managers is the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) after action report (Kapucu, Augustin & Garayev, 2009). Report outlines such as this should be expanded upon and reviewed constantly while being filled out with integrity to promote honest lessons learned in logistics management. Without these honest lessons learned, emergency management logistics will not improve efficiency in providing life saving aid.


Barbisch, D. & Koenig, K. (2006). Understanding surge capacity: essential elements. Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. 13 (11), pp.1098-1102. DOI:10.1197/j.aem.2006.041.

Ben-Tal, A., Chung, B., Mandala, S., & Yao, T. (2011). Robust optimization for emergency logistics planning: risk mitigation in humanitarian relief supply chains. Transportation Research. 45. pp.1-25.

Comfort, L. (2007). Crisis management in hindsight: cognition, communication, coordination, and control. Public Administration Review. pp.189-197.

Cowen, D. (2010). A geography of logistics: market authority and the security of supply chains. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 100 (3). pp.600-620.

Kapucu, N., Augustin, M. & Garayev, V. (2009). Interstate partnerships in emergency management: emergency management assistance compact in response to catastrophic disasters. Public Administration Review. pp.297-313.

Kupucu, N., Arslan, T. & Demiroz, F. (2010). Collaborative emergency management and national emergency management network. Disaster Prevention and Management. 19 (4). pp.452-468.

Kapucu, N., Lawther, W. & Pattison, S. (2007). Logistics and staging areas in managing disasters and emergencies. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Manuscript 1249. pp.1-17.

Sheu, J. (2007). An emergency logistics distribution approach for quick response to urgent relief demand in disasters. Transportation Research. 43. pp.687-709.

Sheu, J. (2009). Dynamic relief-demand management for emergency logistics operations under large-scale disasters. Transportation Research. 46. pp.1-17.

Stock, J. & Lambert, D. (1993). Strategic Logistics Management. McGraw-Hill Irwin. Chapter 12, Fourth Edition. pp.478-514.

Zhang, X., Zhang, Z., Zhang, Y., Wei, D., & Deng, Y. (2012). Route selection for emergency logistics management: a bio-inspired algorithm. Safety Science. 54. pp. 87-91.


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Logistics in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
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logistics, homeland, security, emergency, management
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Chad Prosser (Author), 2018, Logistics in Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/424525


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