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George Vlahakis
IU Communications

Anne Auer
Kelley School of Business

Last modified: Monday, November 5, 2012

IU expert comments on fuel shortage, logistical challenges following Superstorm Sandy

Nov. 5, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, attention has shifted to coordination between agencies and the subsequent recovery that are part of the disaster management cycle.

Alfonso J. Pedraza-Martinez

Alfonso J. Pedraza-Martinez

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Alfonso J. Pedraza-Martinez, an assistant professor of operations and decision technologies at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, is an expert on management in humanitarian operations and has studied some aspects of the International Red Cross' relief efforts.

Below are comments from Pedraza-Martinez:

"Although the immediate danger has passed ... demand for fuel has increased for both citizens and disaster response vehicles. This is mainly explained by the decrease in public transportation, as well as the uncertainty about the duration of the emergency. By allowing employees who have the capability to work from home during the duration of fuel shortages, employers can mitigate the emergency. By giving honest and frequent updates about the duration of the emergency, the government and the media can reduce uncertainty.

"Keep in mind that in disaster conditions, uncertainty produces stress and fear. Additionally, the government and the media can create awareness about the use of fuel. There have been reports of citizens with almost full fuel tanks driving around looking for fuel 'just in case' because they do not know how long the shortage will take. By doing so, drivers are consuming their fuel without the guarantee of finding supply. A fuel tank is usually enough to drive normal commuting distances during more than one week, but the uncertainty of the planning horizon is pushing people to take potentially counterproductive decisions.

"The need for portable water pumps and electric generators added to the increase in the use of disaster response vehicles, which explains the remaining increase in the demand for fuel. Water pumps are the main tools to dry out the millions of gallons of water that flooded house basements, tunnels and train stations in the affected areas. Power generators are important to provide electricity to hospitals, nursing homes and government offices while electricity is re-established.

"Deployment of generators has been a challenge. Despite the need to match the right generator with the right task, FEMA officers must balance the urgency of providing electricity with the efforts for restoring energy, managed by electric companies. Reconnecting the grid is risky for utility employees considering that it involves removing downed trees and accessing homes with standing water. Additionally, priorities in reconnection as well as the differences in time to repair underground and overhead lines result in asymmetric restoration, which creates a perception of inequity in the affected population.

"Experience in previous disasters like the Haiti earthquake has shown that the perception of inequity increases the risk of security problems. Once again, to anticipate security issues, the government and the media should keep the population informed about the situation while the disaster response systems focus all their effort and resources on restoring basic services as soon as possible, building on the response that they have delivered up until now."

Pedraza-Martinez's research, "Decentralization and Earmarked Funding in Humanitarian Logistics for Relief and Development," received the Best Paper Award for 2012 by the Humanitarian Operations and Crisis Management Track of the Production and Operations Management Society. He can be reached at 812-855-6227 or