This paper examines the US response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. It takes a specific look at how the supply chains failed, focusing on the three key aspects of (1) essential workers, (2) medical supply chain fragility, and (3) food availability. It goes on to identify potential causes of those failures and then identifies lessons that might have mitigated the supply chain breakdowns. Finally, the paper reviews how similar supply chain challenges are being faced in the current COVID-19 pandemic and explores how lessons observed during Hurricane Maria may be applicable in the present-day.
Maria struck Puerto Rico as a category 4 hurricane on 20 September 2017 and caused widespread damage. The electrical grid was completely destroyed, communications were knocked out, roads were blocked, and access to clean water was limited. Supply chains were severely disrupted.
Key failures of the supply chain included the following:
1) A lack of essential workers prevented key goods from being distributed. A shortage of logistical personnel, contracts personnel, translators, debris removal workers, and truck drivers severely compromised the ability to track and distribute important emergency goods on the island.
2) Fragility in the medical supply chain led to national and localized shortages. A shortage of saline, saline bags, and medical drugs disrupted the medical supply chain at a national level and uncovered the US’s reliance on the large medical industry in Puerto Rico. At the local level, most hospitals were completely inoperable following the storm. Without access to doctors, dialysis machines, oxygen, and ventilators, mortality in Puerto Rico increased.
3) Damage to key infrastructure and low food security restricted access to food. Ahead of the hurricane, levels of food insecurity in Puerto Rico were much higher than the rest of the US. The island depended on imports for 85% of its food supply. After the storm, distribution networks were severely compromised, and both local and relief supply chains struggled to meet the need. The result was an island-wide food shortage.
During a disaster, the ability of a supply chain to function relies on characteristics of the chain itself, as well as factors external to the supply chain (e.g. infrastructure, emergency preparedness, leadership, and coordination). The cascading effects of failed infrastructure or unprepared leadership will severely compromise the ability of a supply chain to deliver the right supplies at the right time.
Professional paper for the fulfillment of the Master of Public Affairs degree.
Lessons from a Hurricane: Supply Chain Resilience in a Disaster, An Analysis of the US Disaster Response to Hurricane Maria.
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