Courting disaster plans with college curricula Goal is to train professionals in humanitarian response
Hurricane Sandy was a good example of how humanitarian response agencies from various towns and government levels need to coordinate response efforts.
Some of the larger NGOs were criticized over delays in delivering aid to affected areas. Some delays were attributed in part to the locations chosen for pre-positioning relief supplies and the types of supplies that were delivered, which sometimes did not match needs.
While it’s not possible to predict when and where a disaster will strike or what kind of relief demand it will generate, it is possible to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of such details as inventory pre-positioning and debris management using analytics incorporated into decision-making processes.
Several universities now provide advanced degrees in humanitarian response planning.
Tufts University offers a Master of Arts in Humanitarian Assistance, whose mission is to provide a means by which response professionals can develop skills in the areas of nutrition, food policy, and economic, political and social development as they relate to humanitarian action. The degree is offered by the university’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the famed Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and is aimed at mid-career professionals.
An International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance can be obtained by completing a one-month, 200-hour course at Fordham University. The program focuses on the complexity and intensity of the conditions humanitarian workers face and will be offered this year in New York and Berlin.
Georgia Tech recently devised a curriculum that leads to a specialized Executive Education Certificate. The Health and Humanitarian Logistics Program is designed to give humanitarian relief managers the skills necessary to improve logistics and supply chain response when responding to the aftermath of war, famine or infectious disease outbreak, or following man-made or natural disasters.
According to co-director Pinar Keskinocak, one of the program’s strengths is that it attracts a diversity of participants from government (USAID, Centers for Disease Control) and non-government agencies (World Food Programme, Red Cross, CARE, Direct Relief International).
“The program puts a strong emphasis on coordination and collaboration among relief agencies in planning and responding to disasters and for long-term humanitarian relief efforts,” Keskinocak said. “This is addressed through case studies as well as rigorous mathematical models that gave the participants an appreciation of the complexity and the payoff of considering system-wide decisions.”
Relief agencies at all levels were criticized in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for a lack of preparedness, as well as for response and recovery delays, especially for lack of coordination between various governmental and non-governmental agencies.
Keskinocak told Homeland1 that Katrina was a wake-up call for everyone in terms of highlighting the need for better preparedness and response and stronger coordination of activities.
“It’s still early to assess the effectiveness or response to Sandy, and agencies are still evaluating what worked and what did not during the response,” she said, “but many agree that federal response, particularly FEMA’s, after Sandy was notably better compared to Katrina.”
This was partly due to the establishment of a more responsive supply chain and to stronger ties with other organizations and industry partners improving the coordination.
“The strategies contained in our curriculum,” Keskinocak said, “heavily address uncertainty in decision-making for prepositioning supplies, setting up shelters or other facilities, and procurement, including levels of inventory to increase the resiliency in relief supply.”