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The role of intermodal transportation in humanitarian supply chains

Han Zhang, MS, Lesley Strawderman, PhD, Burak Eksioglu, PhD


After a natural or man-made disaster, effective and efficient disaster relief support is needed. People affected by disasters should be moved from impacted areas, and staff and disaster relief supplies need to be moved to affected destinations in a timely manner. Disaster relief supply chains facilitate the transportation of personnel and supplies that directly affect the humanitarian aid performance. Utilizing appropriate transportation modes in the relief chain is critical to maintain effective relief operations. The main objective of this study is to identify the role of intermodal transportation and related decision making in disaster relief transportation. This objective will be achieved through the following specific aims: identify and assess the current response operations; determine how, if at all, and why humanitarian organizations utilize different modes of transportation to move goods and personnel effectively and efficiently when responding to and recovering from disasters; and identify factors that will potentially enhance the attractiveness of using intermodal transportation. To achieve these aims, two rounds of interviews were conducted first, and second, a large-scale online survey was distributed. Data analysis found that intermodal transportation is not frequently used in disaster relief operations. Decision makers in disaster relief agencies consider multiple factors when choosing transportation modes, but among the factors identified by participants, travel distance was the transportation mode considered most often, regardless of whether supplies or people were being transported. Finally, the organizations that cover larger areas and preposition supplies in their relief operations tend to use intermodal transportation more frequently.


intermodal transportation, decision making, relief supply chains

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