Emergency Management

Information Visibility in Humanitarian Operations: Current State-of-the-Art

Information Visibility in Humanitarian Operations: Current State-of-the-Art
In N. Atlay, M. Haselkorn, and C. Zobel (Eds.), Advances in Managing Humanitarian Operations. New York: Springer.

Privett, N.

Purpose – Humanitarian operations can be greatly improved through increased supply chain visibility, that is, availability of information throughout the supply chain. This is broadly true for all types of humanitarian operations, whether disaster relief, global health efforts, or capacity building, or community development., and it is especially true for operations in developing or compromised country contexts.  This chapter establishes basic supply chain visibility needs in humanitarian contexts and explores current state-of-the-art technologies and applications employed to gain and improve visibility in humanitarian operations.  Conclusions are drawn regarding gaps in current visibility mechanisms as well as promising areas for further research and development.


Approach – Information regarding visibility needs, technologies, and projects was collected through 22 semi-structured interviews and a review of current literature from a variety of sources.  The state-of-the-art of visibility technology and applications are described by reviewing technologies, applications, and pilot projects in the humanitarian sector.  Conclusions are drawn comparing these technologies and addressing their weaknesses as well as remaining gaps in currently available solutions.


Findings – There is consensus among humanitarian researchers and practitioners that increased visibility has the potential to greatly improve humanitarian operations.  Firstly, though, any visibility mechanism must first be robust to potential humanitarian contextual challenges, including weak infrastructure (e.g., roads, electricity, internet and mobile networks), remoteness of operations, lack of human resources, and environmental conditions.  Identified visibility needs for humanitarian operations include tracking of location, tracking of inventory levels, temperature monitoring, tracing product information, information sharing, and decision making support.

This chapter demonstrates that current state-of-the-art technologies and applications aimed at increasing visibility in humanitarian operations are varied in approach and complexity; while  each tackle different needs, no one solution satisfies all. Reviewed technologies and applications are organized into the following categories: nontechnology-based applications, mature technologies, mobile phone applications and technologies, satellite-based technologies, temperature sensor and monitor technologies, and software technologies.  Indeed, each mechanism investigated (state-of-the-art technologies and applications) does improve visibility to some degree, but more complete visibility must be achieved through disconnected, patchwork solutions.  Thus, multifaceted and disjoined efforts must be employed to achieve even low levels of visibility today.

Over all of these technologies and applications, a set of key weaknesses has been identified.  While great advances and success has been achieved, unfeasible infrastructure dependency continues to be a weakness of existing technologies and applications. Such dependency includes reliance on electricity, computers, internet connectivity, cellular networks, and existing systems (e.g., RFID reader network). It is observed in this research, that as a solution moves away from being infrastructure dependent, it becomes more dependent on human resources.  As such, many of these solutions are labor intensive, dependent on reporting, and require extensive training.  However, human resources constraints and dependency themselves are serious issues facing humanitarian operations.  Furthermore, data collection is clearly limited and existing methods continue to be plagued by inaccuracy, deficient error checking provisions, and lack of back-up. Some data is still not real-time and delayed notification does not enable prevention. Affordability is another key weakness in the form of the devices, systems, and/or usage. 

Most importantly, for information visibility to be beneficial, (1) the information must be actionable and (2) the gained information and operational reaction systems must be synchronized for action, i.e., operations must be prepared and capable to respond to the information.  Thus, the greatest limitations are the lack of systems, procedures, and training that enable meaningful and appropriate reaction to the information provided. 

Contribution – This research assembles and evaluates current needs and efforts in humanitarian operations and supply chain visibility. Overall, this chapter informs current research and practice of ideal, necessary and realistically obtainable information in today’s humanitarian operations.  The benefits of this work extend broadly to operations and supply chain researchers and practitioners, including those engaged in humanitarian relief, global health supply chains, capacity building, and ongoing development campaigns.  Furthermore, the identification of gaps in current state-of-the-art technologies and applications directs future efforts of developers and users.

Supplying Health to the World

Supplying Health to the World
The Medicine Maker, 0315, Article #302.

Privett, N.

New and improved drugs are released every year to tackle global health needs – and many pharma companies have initiatives to supply those drugs to the developing world. Unfortunately, efforts are wasted without proper supply chain management. Here, we prioritize the top ten challenges.

Promoting Transportation Flexibility in Extreme Events through Multi-Modal Connectivity

Promoting Transportation Flexibility in Extreme Events through Multi-Modal Connectivity
U.S. Department of Transportation Region II Urban Transportation Research Center, New York, NY: NYU-Wagner, June 2014.

R. Zimmerman, C.E. Restrepo, J. Sellers, A. Amirapu, and Theodore R. Pearson

Extreme events of all kinds are increasing in number, severity, or impacts. Transportation provides a vital support service for people in such circumstances in the short-term for evacuation and providing supplies where evacuation is not undertaken, yet, transportation services are often disabled in disasters. Nationwide and in New York and New Jersey record-setting weather disasters have occurred and are expected to continue. Disadvantaged populations are particularly vulnerable. Network theories provide insights into vulnerability and directions for adaptation by defining interconnections, such as multi-modality. Multi-modal connectivity provides passenger flexibility and reduces risks in extreme events, and these benefits are evaluated in the NY area. Focusing on public transit, selected passenger multimodal facilities are identified that connect to transit, emphasizing rail-bus connectivity. Publicly available databases are used from MTA, NJ rail, and U.S. DOT’s IPCD. For NYC, statistical analyses suggest there may be some differences by poverty levels. For NYC and three northeastern NJ cities connectivity differs for stations that are terminuses and have high rail convergence. This report provides statistical summaries, cases, and a literature review to characterize multi-modal facilities and their use in extreme events. Recommendations and future research directions are provided for the role of passenger multi-modality to enhance transit flexibility.

The research was funded by a faculty research grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Region 2 University Transportation Research Center to NYU-Wagner, 2012-2014.

Improving Visibility in Humanitarian Supply Chains

Improving Visibility in Humanitarian Supply Chains
The Humanitarian Space: Articles (The Humanitarian Practice Network).

Privett, N.

Humanitarian supply chains must function in the most challenging environments and, consequently, supply chain visibility – information and data, for instance regarding products in transit and availability and stock levels at storage and distribution points – can often be poor. Increasing supply chain visibility has the potential to greatly improve humanitarian operations by providing data to inform more effective and accurate decisions, enabling evidence-based interventions and management, exposing issues for effective remedy and increasing accountability. This article identifies a core set of visibility needs for humanitarian supply chains, discusses technology and pilot projects aimed at providing increased visibility and compares and analyses current approaches.

Crisis Communications

Crisis Communications
SAGE Encyclopedia of Crisis Management, edited by K. B. Penuel, M. Statler, and R. Hagen, Sage Publishers, pp. 188-193

R. Zimmerman

Although now a growing and respectable research field, crisis management—as a formal area of study—is relatively young, having emerged since the 1980s following a succession of such calamities as the Bhopal gas leak, Chernobyl nuclear accident, Space Shuttle Challenger loss, and Exxon Valdez oil spill. Analysis of organizational failures that caused such events helped drive the emerging field of crisis management. Simultaneously, the world has experienced a number of devastating natural disasters: Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, etc. From such crises, both human-induced and natural, we have learned our modern, tightly interconnected and interdependent society is simply more vulnerable to disruption than in the past. This interconnectedness is made possible in part by crisis management and increases our reliance upon it. As such, crisis management is as beneficial and crucial today as information technology has become over the last few decades.

Crisis is varied and unavoidable. While the examples highlighted above were extreme, we see crisis every day within organizations, governments, businesses and the economy. A true crisis differs from a “routine” emergency, such as a water pipe bursting in the kitchen. Per one definition, “it is associated with urgent, high-stakes challenges in which the outcomes can vary widely (and are very negative at one end of the spectrum) and will depend on the actions taken by those involved.” Successfully engaging, dealing with, and working through a crisis requires an understanding of options and tools for individual and joint decision making. Our Encyclopedia of Crisis Management comprehensively overviews concepts and techniques for effectively assessing, analyzing, managing, and resolving crises, whether they be organizational, business, community, or political. From general theories and concepts exploring the meaning and causes of crisis to practical strategies and techniques relevant to crises of specific types, crisis management is thoroughly explored.

How Social Media Moves New York, Part 2: Recommended Social Media Policy for Transportation Providers

How Social Media Moves New York, Part 2: Recommended Social Media Policy for Transportation Providers
NYU Rudin Center for Transportation, December 2012

Kaufman, Sarah.

Social media networks allow transportation providers to reach large numbers of people simultaneously and without a fee, essential factors for the millions of commuters and leisure travelers moving through the New York region every day. This report, based on earlier findings (from Part 1), which analyzed local transportation providers’ use of social media, and a seminar on the subject in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, recommends social media policies for transportation providers seeking to inform, engage and motivate their customers.

The goals of social media in transportation are to inform (alert riders of a situation), motivate (to opt for an alternate route), and engage (amplify the message to their friends and neighbors). To accomplish these goals, transportation providers should be:

- Accessible: Easily discovered through multiple channels and targeted information campaigns

- Informative: Disseminating service information at rush hour and with longer-form discussions on blogs as needed

- Engaging: Responding directly to customers, marketing new services, and building community

- Responsive: Soliciting and internalizing feedback and self-evaluating in a continuous cycle

Transportation During and After Hurricane Sandy

Transportation During and After Hurricane Sandy
Rudin Center for Transportation, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, November 2012

Kaufman, Sarah, Carson Qing, Nolan Levenson and Melinda Hanson

Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the strengths and limits of the transportation infrastructure in New York City and the surrounding region. As a result of the timely and thorough preparations by New York City and the MTA, along with the actions of city residents and emergency workers to evacuate and adapt, the storm wrought far fewer casualties than might have occurred otherwise.

This report evaluates storm preparation and response by New York City and the MTA, discusses New Yorkers' ingenuity in work continuity, and recommends infrastructure and policy improvements.


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