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Interagency Logistics Training: Perpetuating the Whole of Government Approach to Disaster Logistics

During times of natural and manmade disasters, effective and efficient logistics operations
become the lifeblood of survivors and serve to directly mitigate pain, suffering, and collateral damage. In a logistically perfect world, interagency logisticians would arrive at the scene of a disaster and work together seamlessly to provide humanitarian assistance to survivors. Unfortunately, that is not the case because each responder organization (large and small) has its own way of doing business. These differences in operating procedures often result in redundancy, supply-chain bottlenecks, and reduced or excess services and supplies to survivors. Training and working together before the disaster can improve logistics processes and make interagency logisticians more effective in aiding suffering populations.

To improve training for disaster logistics, the Army Logistics University (ALU) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have collaborated to develop the Interagency Logistics Course (ILC). This course fills a much-needed training void in disaster logistics by embedding the “whole of Government” approach into a logistics-based curriculum designed to train key logisticians to work together before an event takes place. FEMA is the course sponsor, and the Joint Staff J–4 is the senior mentor.

Challenges of Agency Interaction

Disaster events, such as Hurricane Katrina, this year’s earthquake in Haiti, and tsunamis in the Pacific islands, have shown the world that logistics is most effective when served with a healthy dose of “unity of effort.” When military and civilian departments and agencies with responsibilities for reacting to Federal, State, and local emergencies (natural and manmade) train together before the event, the result is more effective and efficient logistics operations.

In an interagency environment, understanding the capabilities and practices of participating organizations—both governmental and nongovernmental—is tantamount to success. Past events have shown that friction and mistrust among organizations can be mitigated in the interagency environment through early communication, collaboration, and cooperation. This is a culture change for the Department of Defense (DOD), which is accustomed to strict command and control.

This is especially true when one considers that nongovernmental organizations are often the first to arrive on the scene of an event and historically have worked separately from Government agencies. Separation, mistrust, and misunderstanding of one another’s capabilities have caused massive waste of resources, bottlenecks in the supply chain, and general logistics dysfunction among agencies. That does not mean that survivors have not been saved or rescued; it means that operations could have been executed more efficiently and possible more effectively.

Improving Interagency Logistics

Perhaps the most important dynamic for improving interagency logistics is an open dialog before an event that allows each agency to clearly articulate its capabilities and the best point of entry into an event. Dialog among agencies will identify outdated policies, overlaps in responsibilities, and gaps in logistics support. Open dialog supports the ideal of interdependency and helps agencies to move away from stovepipe support that can hamper the overarching mission of supporting survivors.

ILC provides a tactical- through strategic-level overview of interagency disaster logistics and identifies parameters for a national logistics coordinator. The course offers a forum and logistics exercises for the exchange of best logistics practices from the interagency community. ILC provides participants with insights that are unique to response partners. Through interaction before a disaster, ILC can establish an understanding of the practices and policies among interagency partners. This understanding can improve and facilitate a more unified response to national and international disasters and emergencies—small or catastrophic.

ILC has proven that when you bring logisticians together from Government and nongovernmental organizations, they learn from one another. They collectively understand appropriate points of entry to support an event, better understand organizational capabilities, and identify logistics policies and practices that cause inefficiencies and redundancies in the interagency supply chain.

If interagency logistics is the future of DOD logistics, agencies must collaborate before an event to build knowledge and trust. In Homeland Security Presidential Directive–5, Management of Domestic Incidents, the President directed the development of a National Incident Management System and a National Response Plan to align Federal coordination structures. This mandated collaborative approach helps eliminate seams and ties together a complete spectrum of incident management. Interagency logistics training that builds cooperation among DOD, the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, and first responders before an event occurs will help further remove barriers of misunderstanding and mistrust.

It is often said that DOD is the thousand-pound gorilla of interagency logistics. However, despite all its capabilities, DOD is seldom the first responder to arrive on the scene of a disaster. For national and state emergencies, the mission of logistics support to survivors is generally accomplished first by volunteers, the National Guard Bureau, and state, local, and tribal organizations.

The international process of supporting disaster events is similar to the national process, except that the United Nations, the U.S. Agency for International Development, volunteer organizations, and other nongovernmental organizations are likely the first at the scene.

Participants in the first ILC class include logisticians and operators from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, FEMA, J–4, Army Corps of Engineers, Defense Logistics Agency, General Services Administration, U.S. Northern Command, American Red Cross, U.S. Agency for International Development, and state and local emergency management and volunteers.

Beginning in November 2010, the Interagency Logistics Course will be offered quarterly in residence at ALU or on site if required. DOD and FEMA participants may register for the course through the Army Training Resource Requirements System (ATRRS). Other personnel should contact the ILC course director by phone at (804) 765−4503 or by email at billy.davis4@us.army.mil for registration information.

Dr. Billy J. Davis is the chair of the Logistics Operations Committee at the Army Logistics University. He holds a B.S degree in business administration from Saint Leo University, an M.S. degree in secondary education from Old Dominion University, and a Ph.D. in education administration and policy development from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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