News | PSR Researchers Investigate Disaster Preparedness and Supply Chain Resiliency in Hawaii

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by Patricia (Georgie) Suico

As climate-related disasters continue to increase, Hawaii faces unique and heightened risks as a coastal state dealing with ‘the tyranny of distance,’ as the high dependence on imports creates significant vulnerability. Sea levels on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu broke a more than a century-old record in 2017 and exceeded expected levels by almost 9 inches. In addition to extreme weather phenomena (e.g. tsunamis, hurricanes, and tropical storms), rising water levels threaten not only the Hawaiian public’s safety and wellbeing, but also the ability of effective response and mitigation. Flooding and inundation may block off road access to the state’s primarily coastal communities, complicating the supply chain’s ability to distribute necessary goods like food, water, and fuel to affected victims. Recognizing the rising risk of supply chain disruptions as a result of natural disasters, the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC) released a report titled Developing an Analytical Framework for Optimizing Disaster Relief Preparedness to Coastal Hazards: A Preliminary Investigation of Factors Affecting Supply Chain Resilience in Hawaii in October 2020. Led by Associate Professor Suwan Shen and Graduate Research Assistant Megan Julian, the researchers sought to identify and interview key stakeholders, determining primary concerns, challenges, as well as the current level of disaster preparedness of Hawai’i in order to address projected sea level rise.

At-risk and aging infrastructure, often located along shorelines, a lack of back-up supplies and emergency warehouse storage, and agency fragmentation contribute to the state’s susceptibility to disruption. Despite a potential lack of resources, citizens bear the burden of supplying themselves with a 14-day emergency supply in the case of a natural disaster. Shen and Julian focused the research on the island of Oahu, which houses the State’s largest and most important airport/seaport and around two-thirds of Hawaii’s entire population. The area has its own set of concerns, including a road system primarily in low-level coastal areas, sea levels that have consistently exceeded expected levels since 2017, and, like the rest of the state, a lack of available, affordable land to store emergency back-up supply. In order to evaluate the island’s preparedness, researchers considered the impacts of six disaster scenarios caused by coastal hazards and sea level rise: Hurricane Category 1, Hurricane Category 2, Hurricane Category 3, Hurricane Category 4, 3.2 feet rise of sea-level, and tsunami inundation.

The researchers, identifying the weaknesses in Oahu’s supply chain, utilized qualitative interviews of emergency management stakeholders to create a quantitative warehouse optimization model. Key stakeholders were selected to represent a variety of backgrounds (i.e state & federal government, City and County Emergency Management agencies, transportation planning/operation agencies, non-profit organizations (NPOs), and private industry) to answer a set of open-ended questions. Using hazard maps and GIS vulnerability analysis to test levels of exposure in six natural disaster scenarios, the team identified vulnerable sites, such as commercial harbors, ports, and shelters in flooding zones. The team used this data to screen potential warehouse sites based on several criteria, including the ease of truck access, slope, elevation, etc. to determine the most suitable parcels of land for warehouse development. Based on interviews and the warehouse optimization model, several recommendations to improve supply chain resilience emerge including creating opportunities for greater stakeholder collaboration and awareness of other actors’ roles/responsibilities, incorporating a greater diversity of stakeholders in the planning process and in disaster exercises, increasing the number of warehouses, optimizing storage locations, and developing an emergency back-up supply. Hawaii must continue to build supply chain resilience in the face of climate change, considering that the vulnerability analysis shows Oahu’s most critical port/harbors would be exposed in all six of the evaluated disaster scenarios.

The study not only provides notable insights into Hawaii’s disaster preparedness, but also to similar coastal regions, as a disproportionate percentage of the American and global population live in coastal areas. In fact, nearly 40% of the U.S. occupies coastal land, which makes up only 10% of the total land mass, more than quadruple the population density of inland counties. As noted by Shen and Julian, other areas, such as Washington, D.C., and parts of Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, San Fransisco, and South Florida, face significant threats due to flooding and inundation as well. As climate change and natural disasters continue to put at risk public safety and quality of life, the need for increased resilience across the supply chain will only become more imperative in order to protect vulnerable communities.