COVID-19 is unlike any disaster recently experienced by our country. Hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires each have epicenters of destruction. For a disaster like this that is being experienced so broadly, researchers are taking a deeper focus on supply chain management needed to steer our country through this difficult time.
Argonne is home to the National Preparedness Analytics Center (NPAC), which is currently helping state emergency management agencies conduct rapid analyses around supply chain resilience in the context of pandemic planning.
Supply chains involve the ways in which we are able to acquire the necessities of life, from groceries to medication. “When you’re talking about supply chains, you have to talk scale,” said NPAC director Kyle Pfeiffer. “They’re globally interconnected, and they consist of nodes and links. For example, a supply node might be a distribution center, a link might be a roadway or transportation network, and a destination node might be a grocery store. Beyond the grocery store there are upstream dependencies, from farmers growing grain to someone baking bread.”
In 2015, NPAC developed a tool called the Grassroots Infrastructure Dependency Model (GRID-M), which was funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and deployed by about 10 state and local emergency management agencies. This tool later won an R&D 100 award in 2018.
GRID-M was originally designed for hazards that have what Pfeiffer called a “kinetic impact” to supply chains, such as fires or hurricanes. Two features of the pandemic may make it qualitatively different from previous disasters — withstanding enduring loss of workers and possibly establishing quarantine zones. Several states have reached out to the laboratory to see how a new version of GRID-M that incorporates these facets would work.
“Our national response to this disaster is different,” Pfeiffer said. “With pandemics, enduring worker attrition is not something that we can easily plan for. In addition, the duration of this disaster could be quite long, and we’re going to have incident support operations for some time.”
According to Pfeiffer, the new model allows planners to test hypotheses on-the-fly as they plan for potential exclusion, or quarantine, zones. In this way, they can ensure that there are critical private sector services within those zones, and allow some people to leave those zones to get to work if necessary or deliver goods and services without adding significant risk to community transmission of COVID-19.
With the introduction of quarantines and curfews in various parts of the country, the model may soon incorporate aspects related to credentialing — that is, seeing how state and local governments can allow certain people access to particular areas at particular times in order to perform necessary activities. “There are certain functions of life that will need to take place as best as we are able, and we need to make sure that they are performed as safely as possible,” he said.
Because state and local emergency managers can only control what is within their jurisdiction, much of the focus in the new model is on what emergency planners term the “last mile” — essentially, the final stops along the supply chain. Last mile analysis gives leaders the ability to effect the most change where they have influence.
Although state and local governments are doing their best to help support supply chains while still implementing recommended social distancing protocols, actually meeting the needs of the American population and preserving supply chains as much as possible will fall to the private sector. “Private sector supply chains are resilient and quick to market and assemble quickly after a disaster. Our national focus has been, and will continue to be, supporting the private sector to ensure essential goods and services are available to the public,” Pfeiffer said.
Despite the increasing threat posed by COVID-19, Pfeiffer expressed some reason for hope about the societal response. “I’m very optimistic in how we’re planning to support each other,” he said. “I’m very optimistic in the resilience of private sector supply chains. I’m very optimistic of decision-makers’ understanding how their actions have effects on the private sector.”
“But this is not a time to fall asleep at the wheel,” he added. “Everyone is simultaneously a responder and a survivor.”