It is beneficial to define disaster relief supply chains in order to specify the scope of this study. Relief has defined by Wood and colleagues (1995) and Kovács and Spens (2008: 101) as “a foreign intervention into a society to help local citizens.” Kovács and Spens (2008) distinguish between two types of humanitarian logistics: continuous aid work and disaster relief. Disaster relief addresses sudden onset catastrophes as opposed to continuous, ongoing aid which arises from poverty and chronic conditions. Many catastrophes result from natural hazards, but some are caused by conflict, industrial accidents, and other man-made threats. For this study, we follow Day et al. (2012: 24) and use the broader definition of disaster put forth by the International Strategy for Disaster (2004: 3) as “A serious disruption of society’s function, posing a significant, widespread threat to human life, health, property, or the environment, whether caused by accident, nature or human activity, and whether developing suddenly or as a result of complex, long-term processes.”
Disaster relief supply chain management finds its roots in private sector supply chain management. Relief supply chain management can be similar to ordinary supply chain but during a disaster, the goals, means, operations, and measures of success are different. During normal operations, the end goal is based on monetary exchange, profit-seeking, and the selling and purchase of goods and services. With disaster relief, for the most part, the end consumer typically does not pay directly for goods nor are prices set by markets, and recipients of relief supplies may have less opportunity and choice over products than during normal times. Food, water, medicine, and other emergency supplies may be necessary for survival and not allocated through the normal channels and systems for trade and commerce. Disaster relief actors must efficiently supply impacted communities in order to save lives and reduce harm while under constraints and objective functions that are different from normal operations (da Costa et al. 2012). These humanitarian goals of saving lives and providing emergency supplies during disaster events are outside of traditional logistic services. While disruptions to supply chains can also negatively affect revenue and costs, urgent needs and support for individuals, households, and communities which have lost access to goods and services to maintain survival and health place additional burdens, responsibilities, and requirements on supply chains.
Note that in this paper, we are not considering the entirety of the supply chain, and will not be reviewing nor addressing global systems for production, packaging, processing, and labeling nor all of the transportation and distribution systems and networks that support overall management and operations of supply and demand. Instead, our study focuses on those nodes and links of the supply chain that comprise the disaster relief distribution network. While understanding of the movement of goods comes from private sector operations and the need to procure and ship products, the scope of this study on disaster relief in general focuses more narrowly on what the public sector and its partners can do within a specific high risk environment could do to improve its disaster relief supply chain resilience.
2.1 Disaster relief supply chain resilience
The concept of resilience has been advanced by multiple disciplines, including engineering, ecological and urban systems. This conceptual background provides a useful framework from which supply chain resilience has developed (Pettit et al. 2010: 3). A supply chain’s resilience affects disaster relief and humanitarian situations because it constitutes the chain’s engineered and managerial strength vis-à-vis shocks. In island communities, this means that the continued supply of necessities to communities during a crisis is partially dependent on supply systems’ resiliency.
As initially defined in Holling’s (1973) article, resilient systems have two distinct properties. First, they possess the ability to absorb changes. Second, they can return to an equilibrium state after a temporary disturbance. The faster a system returns to normalcy after a disturbance, the greater its resilience (Ponomarov and Holcomb 2009: 125). The concept has been refined to include the “capacity of a system to undergo disturbance and maintain its functions and controls (Carpenter et al. 2001: 765).” Applied to supply chains, the concept of resilience builds on studies of risk and vulnerability. Supply chain managers and stakeholders utilize techniques to ensure supply chain functioning even under disruptive conditions. Increased flexibility, robustness, redundancies, agility, adaptability, and visibility are capabilities by which supply chains can quickly reorganize and continue functionality and increase resilience to hazards and threats (Miao et al., 2013; Pettit et al. 2010: 6).
Ponomarov and Holcomb (2009) provide a definition of supply chain resilience as “the adaptive capability of the supply chain to prepare for unexpected events, respond to disruptions, and recover from them by maintaining continuity of operations at the desired level of connectedness and control over structure and function.” A similar definition is offered by Ponis and Koronis (2012: 921): “the ability to proactively plan and design the supply chain network for anticipating unexpected disruptive (negative) events, respond adaptively to disruptions while maintaining control over structure and function and transcending to a post-event robust state of operations, if possible, more favorable than the one before the event, thus gaining competitive advantage.” Both definitions contain three stages: a proactive stage or preparedness for a shock, a reactive stage or a response to a shock when it occurs, and a transition stage or the longer-term recovery from the response state to a new state altogether.
These three stages inherent in the definition of resilience can be adapted and extended to support disaster management. The proactive stage includes hazard mitigation and disaster preparedness. The reactive stage includes emergency response. Finally, the transition stage includes disaster recovery (Ponomarov and Holcomb 2009: 129). On this last note, the question remains whether a supply chain should return to its previous equilibrium state after an initial disruption (Pettit et al. 2010: 4). Given disruptions, the opportunity exists to be seized such that the supply chain is built back better than before (Davidson 2006: 36). Knowing the definition of resilience is necessary for determining measurements and knowing what the resiliency returns to. This study focuses on developing effective long-term planning strategies in the proactive stage to prepare for an efficient reactive stage.
2.2 Governmental limitations and difficulties in disaster relief supply chain management
Since many infrastructures are constructed and maintained by governmental agencies, when disaster relief supply chains are investigated, conversations center on governmental roles and responsibilities (Dayhim et al. 2014; Rampersad et al. 2020; Yuan et al. 2020). Governments, however, face limitations and challenges in coping with disasters. First of all, based on the bureaucratic structure design and implementation, all disaster management relevant responsibilities and powers are distributed throughout various departments. Design and construction responsibilities of highways, for example, fall under the Department of Transportation. Whereas evacuation and transportation of people to safe locations after disasters might be assigned to Emergency Management (EM) relevant agencies (e.g., fire departments, police departments, and local EM offices). Also, the fragmented governmental structure makes information transition difficult between various departments and levels of government. Consequently, responders have difficulties understanding the holistic picture of disaster response (Miao et al., 2013; Schneider 2011; Sylves, 2015). As a result, without regular planning and communication, one common limitation of planning for disasters is people from different organizations often assume other individuals or agencies might take care of specific disaster management functions and roles during disasters.
For instance, Chang and colleagues (2018) found that emergency managers in Oklahoma realize collaboration in disaster planning is imperative, but often assume other EM organizations would collaborate with them to establish a plan to prepare for and respond to all hazards in the jurisdiction. During discussions with EM stakeholders, it was found that they were only required to update their areas of expertise and contact information in the disaster planning processes. To improve this situation, many EM researchers suggested increasing conversations and cooperation between various governmental departments and organizations during disaster planning processes (Alexander 2002; Bhandari et al. 2014; Comfort 2007; Dynes 1994). Some researchers also suggest organizing more inter-organizations disaster exercises or events to strengthen teamwork between response organizations (Fisher 1998; Lindell and Perry 2007; Moynihan 2009; Sutton and Tierney 2006).
Also, given that many disasters strike small jurisdictions in a short period, it seems some local governments might not be interested in investing in long-term disaster management plans and systems—including the relief supply chain system. As a result, many local governments feel pressure to allocate money to seemingly more urgent needs and issues (for more discussion, see Sylves 2015: 10-13; and Renne et al. 2020: 5-8). It is not just that the long-term disaster plans and systems are not top priorities for the governments. If disasters do not strike a certain area for a while, citizens tend to assume the impacts are mild, and thus they do not expect and prepare for disastrous scenarios. This routinely creates cultural challenges in coping with disasters.
2.3 Cultural challenges in coping with disasters
Culturally, people develop specific beliefs toward natural disasters (Appleby-Arnold et al. 2021; Benadusi 2014; Mercer et al. 2012). Previous experience may influence risk perceptions and those perceptions can determine how people prepare for and respond to disasters (Oven and Bankoff 2020; Xu et al. 2019; Yong et al. 2017). Those living in disaster-prone areas are more likely to develop memories and cultural knowledge of hazards, which may encourage them to prepare for, respond to, and manage disasters (Warner et al. 2019). Prior experience, however, could serve as a double-edged sword (Dow and Cutter 1998; Plümper et al. 2017). On one hand, people who’ve experienced damage from disasters may increase their preparedness (Onuma et al. 2017). On the other hand, if repeated, previous disasters did not produce harmful consequences, impacted persons may be less likely to take future disasters seriously or be somewhat complacent about the potential for harm (Onuma et al. 2017). In Honolulu, while hurricane warnings are quite frequent, most of them didn’t make direct landfall on the island and only caused minor or no damage in recent years. Dow and Cutter (1998) describe the “cry wolf” syndrome associated with repeated warnings or predictions of dire consequences which did not materialize during hazard events. There are complexities associated with the assessment of risks, trust in official information, and preparedness actions (Dow and Cutter 1998). Furthermore, disaster-prone areas usually invest heavily in protective infrastructure, which may encourage settlement in hazard-prone locations and nurture a false sense of security, preventing people from relocating to safer places or taking preparedness precautions (Kelman et al. 2016; Onuma et al. 2017, Yuzal et al. 2017).