New DLA Initiatives to Improve DoD's Hurricane, Disaster Response
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 30, 2006 With hurricane season just days away, three new initiatives have officials here at the Defense Logistics Agency headquarters confident they're more prepared than ever to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency if needed.
Even before the ink had dried on after-action reviews from the 2005 hurricane season, DLA was already at work, coordinating with FEMA and other agencies to improve its ability to support hurricanes and any other contingency operation in the United States, Army Col. Eric Smith, staff director for DLA's Logistics Operations Center, told American Forces Press Service.
"We never stopped preparing for this (hurricane) season," Smith said.
DLA looked at lessons learned from hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and has been meeting regularly with FEMA to ensure it's ready to provide the best, most timely support possible in the event of a natural or manmade disaster, he said.
"We looked at lessons learned and immediately started meeting with FEMA and planning," he said.
One outcome of those meetings is a new interagency agreement between the Defense Department and FEMA that streamlines the preplanning and disaster assistance process.
The agreement, signed March 31, helps clear up any misunderstandings about responsibilities and authorities when a disaster occurs. "It basically says, 'We know this is going to happen, so let's mitigate it by putting pre-approvals in place,'" Smith said.
The new agreement gives DLA responsibility for procuring, storing and managing materiel for disaster relief missions, along with the required funding.
In 2005, food was DLA's biggest contribution to hurricane relief efforts. The agency provided more than $324 million in meals, both individually packaged military rations and commercial meals, Smith said.
To prepare for the upcoming season, DLA is storing and managing 250,000 cases of military rations -- about 3 million meals -- that can be diverted to disaster areas as needed, he said.
But these rations -- known as meals, ready-to-eat -- will be used only as a stopgap measure until civilian meals can be provided, he said. This year, DLA also has contracts in place with commercial vendors that, if called upon, would quickly provide meal packages of products commonly seen on supermarket shelves: canned stew, canned iced tea and packaged treats, among them.
DLA also is prepared to provide water, ice, blankets, cots, medical supplies, fuel and tarps. "If they call on us and need us, we're ready to respond," Smith said.
Two new DLA initiatives will help ensure the agency can respond faster and more efficiently.
In 2005, DLA kept track of the goods it provided FEMA but lost sight of where they went after the handoff. As a result, responders in the disaster area sometimes didn't know where to find what they needed or who to ask to find out, Smith explained. "We had plenty of food there, but no one knew where it was, and we couldn't tell them," he said.
That won't happen during the 2006 hurricane season. A new in-transit visibility system will use satellites to track DLA deliveries to the disaster zone. DLA will report the whereabouts of those shipments to FEMA every six hours until they're delivered, Smith said.
Whenever feasible, DLA will deliver its supplies exactly where they're needed, rather than handing them off to FEMA to distribute, he said. But when a handoff is necessary, FEMA will now use its own Global Positioning System tracking devices to monitor where these goods move within the zone.
"This will give us 100 percent in-transit visibility," Smith said. "It ensures 'eyes on' throughout the process."
A new deployable depot capability will also help improve the way relief supplies are distributed. This concept, developed for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is expected to become operational exactly as hurricane season opens June 1.
Basically, a 75-person team will remain on call, ready to deploy within 96 hours to set up a mobile mini-depot exactly where it's needed. There, it would quickly begin to receive and store goods and run a warehousing operation, Smith explained.
Once established, the depot would be able to process material to support 200,000 people a day with meals, water ice, tarps and other supplies and to process about 130 truck deliveries a day, Smith said.
Smith said he's confident these initiatives will help speed up DLA's, and as a result, the entire federal government's response in the event of a disaster or other emergency. "We have done an assessment of what we provided before, and we're ready to go, for contingency operations as well as disaster support," he said.
But in gearing up for a potential stateside disaster, DLA remains focuses on its primary mission of supporting warfighters, Smith said.
"We have not lost sight and will not lose sight of our forward deployed forces in the global war on terror," he said. In the event of a conflict, "there's an understanding that this is what comes first," he said.
By pre-planning and putting processes in place so they're ready to go when they're needed, DLA will ensure it's always ready to support its men and women in uniform while helping support the homeland in the event of a crisis, Smith said.