Humanitarian response: Improving logistics to save lives


  • Jessica McCoy, MS



disasters, disaster planning, relief work, transportation, supply and distribution


Each year, millions of people worldwide are affected by disasters, underscoring the importance of effective relief efforts. Many highly visible disaster responses have been inefficient and ineffective. Humanitarian agencies typically play a key role in disaster response (eg, procuring and distributing relief items to an affected population, assisting with evacuation, providing healthcare, assisting in the development of longterm shelter), and thus their efficiency is critical for a successful disaster response. The field of disaster and emergency response modeling is well established, but the application of such techniques to humanitarian logistics is relatively recent. This article surveys models of humanitarian response logistics and identifies promising opportunities for future work. Existing models analyze a variety of preparation and response decisions (eg, warehouse location and the distribution of relief supplies), consider both natural and manmade disasters, and typically seek to minimize cost or unmet demand. Opportunities to enhance the logistics of humanitarian response include the adaptation of models developed for general disaster response; the use of existing models, techniques, and insights from the literature on commercial supply chain management; the development of working partnerships between humanitarian aid organizations and private companies with expertise in logistics; and the consideration of behavioral factors relevant to a response. Implementable, realistic models that support the logistics of humanitarian relief can improve the preparation for and the response to disasters, which in turn can save lives.

Author Biography

Jessica McCoy, MS

Management Science & Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California.


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How to Cite

McCoy, MS, J. “Humanitarian Response: Improving Logistics to Save Lives”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 3, no. 5, Sept. 2008, pp. 283-9, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2008.0035.