This Grant for Rapid Response Research (RAPID) project will identify the key dynamics for optimal distribution and sustainable partnership in Haitian disaster recovery following the tragic 7.0 magnitude earthquake which struck just 10 miles from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on January 12th, 2010. This study will be conducted during the military troop withdrawal and the unique conditions propagated by the transition from international response to Haitian-led recovery. Observations during this time period can provide insight into many of the inter-agency problems that have plagued large-scale responses in the past. The body of knowledge on dynamic partnership formation has the potential to be greatly advanced and expanded through the identification of key characteristics in effective inter-agency partnerships and through observation of the practical utilization of these partnerships during formation and under strain.

Data to be collected during the Haitian visit includes insight from emergency managers and responders. Using naturalistic data collection methods, quantitative and qualitative data on the efficiency of aid acquisition, transportation, and distribution will be collected using a knowledgeable researcher embedded within an active distribution organization. By focusing on the dynamics of local-international partnerships and their efficacy, this study will identify initial results from analysis of the collected data and will motivate future studies aimed at developing accurate models for organizational dynamics, distribution locations, and transport methodology under dynamic conditions. The information gathered will provide practical and testable insight into future response operations across the United States and around the world. The recent earthquake in Chile and ongoing preparation for similar earthquake disasters (e.g. the New Madrid Seismic Zone in the US) motivate the need for the increased understanding of inter-organizational dynamics which this study can provide.

Project Report

This study analyzed disaster response and recovery efforts that followed the January 12th, 2010 Haitian earthquake through the eyes of 18 different relief agencies. Focusing on the formation and maintenance of partnerships after the catastrophic earthquake, this research explored the concepts of cooperation, mutual understanding, and connectivity among agencies responding to the earthquake. The research resulted in several new research initiatives and an extensive case study based on results from interviews and interactions with 18 agencies during a month-long trip to Haiti in the summer of 2010. This research was conducted primarily while a member of the research team was in Haiti for a month-long immersion into the local culture and response environment. Living at a local orphanage and partnering with Americans and Haitians active in the response effort, the research effort focused on identifying factors critical to grass-roots efficacy in disaster relief operations. This project opened the doors to re-examine the disaster relief from an engineering and people perspective by returning to a grassroots approach to research and partnering with NGOs responding to the disaster in Haiti. This approach included a researcher living in Haiti for a month, and providing continued insight and support to local operations in the wake of earthquake. Merging a mathematical approach to the challenges of the poor and those in need, this project has provided an avenue for future work in disaster relief within the discipline and rigorously examined a complex problem with human touch. Using the data from this project, the research team is now able to help describe some of the basic problems in disaster relief in a logical framework that is people-centric. By exploring humanitarian relief from a mathematical rigorous viewpoint, the project provided new data and insight that challenged the norm. Wherever the research results were presented, the project was well received, resulting in many invitations towards partnership and the development of sister projects to advance the field of disaster relief. The results of the research provide some questions about whether the commonly accepted trends in humanitarian logistics accurately represent the actual dynamics experienced by agencies responding to large disasters such as Haiti. Interagency relationships have been the focus of many studies in social science literature, but this study provides a different approach that necessitates further research in the development of more accurate and applied modeling of disaster relief. This study also provides qualitative input from emergency managers on how to conduct a future studies to measure the impact of different partnerships and groups. Using commodity costs, a future study could provide a more accurate method of modeling dynamic resource allocation disaster relief operations. We propose that more complete modeling of responding agencies could be accomplished by delimiting the type, source, and cost, of several key commodities following a disaster, and correlating this data to the partnership composition of responding agencies. Additionally, more accurate recommendations could be made regarding the optimal partnership mix for agencies entering a disaster. Though time-lapsed data for agency expenditures would prove extremely useful in expanding such a model, any effort to identify trends in emergency recovery operations would more than likely need direct support from a large agency. The social impact of this project has been felt across the University at Buffalo community, providing insight and encouragement to reach out and help solve problems in developing nations around the world. Researchers from the project have presented in a variety of venues, helping people to understand the effects of disasters and how to respond to them. As a result of the research partnerships in Haiti, researchers have been invited to local churches and college groups to discuss Haiti and the impact of disasters on society. These interactions have provided an excellent platform to inform and inspire people in the United States to consider how they might help others suffering from a disaster. By maintaining connections with the Haitian people at those orphanages, we are actively working with local churches to help give promising young people from Haiti the chance for an education in the United States with the vision of them returning to assist their country as they rebuild from the earthquake.

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Texas Engineering Experiment Station
College Station
United States
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