1 minute readDisaster, International
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Organizing Armaggedon: Wired Magazine Explores Haiti Response

Wired Magazine just published an in-depth look at the challenge of rapidly bringing in and distributing massive quantities of food, medicine, shelter, and supplies to a place where the infrastructure has been so devastated.

The result is called: Organizing Armageddon: What We Learned from the Haiti Earthquake Experience

Author Vince Beiser contacted us right after the earthquake happened and let us know he’d be examining the logistics of emergency aid for this article. We connected him with our workers on the ground and with the Federation.

Below are just a few of the many incredible passages that explain the complicated nature of disaster response.

His job is to wrangle airplanes, making sure that the people and materiel on every Red Cross relief flight get to where they’re supposed to be. He’s been fascinated by aircraft since he was a kid, hanging around the local airport taking snapshots of planes.

Despite the massive scale of their operations, only in recent years have the people who deliver disaster aid begun to benefit from the kind of data-driven decisionmaking and rigorous academic study that their commercial and military counterparts rely on. In the past decade, the responses to major disasters have been analyzed in hundreds of case studies and pored over by experts, their conclusions field-tested in subsequent crises where yet more data is collected. Learning the right lessons could not be more important: The stakes are literally life and death.

To fill the gaps, most organizations have standing deals with commercial suppliers and transport companies. In an emergency, they order up whatever they need at a preset price, without having to waste time seeking bids and negotiating contracts. For the Haiti operation, the Red Cross alone brought in mosquito nets from Vietnam, medical equipment from Europe, and tarps, cooking gear, and hygiene equipment from India and China. Almost all the goods are made to detailed uniform standards. Every blanket, for instance, is the same size, thickness, even color, no matter which supplier produced it. That allows the logisticians to calculate precisely the volume and weight of each order, which in turn enables them to plan what sort of transport and storage facilities will be needed.

When they have to buy stuff that isn’t covered by those standing agreements, the Red Cross requires that the items fit the standards laid out in its online catalog of emergency aid. The catalog gives detailed specs for more than 2,000 items, down to the width and length of bandages and the vitamin content of powdered milk.