The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support (DLA) has recently announced that it is exploring how it could leverage blockchain technology to improve its disaster relief efforts. During the 2017 hurricane season, DLA in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had to respond to three major hurricanes that made landfall in the United States which was a record for the agency. It involved the provision of 41,000 power poles, 88.1 million meals, and 1,264 generators.
The relief effort was adequate and successful, but despite this, the Troop Support’s Continuous Process Improvement office has been looking at ways in which the response process can be swifter and more efficient, and now blockchain is being suggested as a potential solution for streamlining operations and improving the effort of responders. This initiative to implement a blockchain for disaster relief response was proposed by the United States Department of Defense in a recent press release. The integration of blockchain is expected to improve the overall efficiency of disaster relief operations.
Why is blockchain important?
The Troop Support’s Continuous Process Improvement office (CPI) in Philadelphia has been reviewing the benefits that blockchain technology can bring to relief operations, and the relief effort process conducted during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was used as a case study.
CPI management analyst, Elijah Londo sees the application of blockchain as an essential component for enhancing response efforts and believes that research in this regard is the perfect opportunity for the CPI to pilot the development of blockchain applications for other areas within the Department of Defense.
According to Londo:
“We think there’s a lot of potential [in blockchain]. Where do we want to be as an organization in shaping and influencing where the [Department of Defense] goes with blockchain?”
Blockchain for Disaster Relief
One major problematic area in disaster response is the heavily centralized logistics process mainly caused by the management of databases through centralized agencies. The current system is also opaque and requires stakeholder synchronization to ensure that accurate and up-to-date information is being tracked and recorded. Blockchain integration can offer a decentralized upgrade to this system. Distributed ledger technology (DLT) could allow for faster and more efficient data sharing, and thanks to the blockchain’s inherent features of immutability and transparent, the data in the system can be trusted.
Applying blockchain for disaster relief efforts could bring new improvements to the current processes used to collect and share data. For instance, data changes like updates related to ordering and tracking information would be linked in a “chain” that uses peer-to-peer validation process to build trust within the system. All changes and updates will be viewable by all valid participants of the network, helping the agency to improve transparency and transaction audibility.
To understand how blockchain technology could improve logistic processes for relief effort, Construction and Equipment (CE) deputy director Marko Graham developed a process map of C&E’s actions and interactions with FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, Troop Support and industry partners. These key stakeholders would be the peer users of the potential blockchain network. This analysis allowed Graham to identify process challenges such as the efforts to manually maintain a spreadsheet that tracks requirements sourced through multiple vendors as items were purchased and delivered.
Graham later explained how blockchain technology could help tackle these process and data challenges by providing shipment in-transit visibility, real time data, and faster transaction processing.
According to Graham:
“This is where I can see where blockchain would have been a big help. Flowing [material specifications and tracking data]from the manufacturer buying the raw materials to…getting the transportation and getting it on the barges.”
Possible Future Adoption
Aside from the Department of Defense, other branches of the United States military have been investigating military-based applications for blockchain technology. Back in September, the US Navy announced that it is developing a permissioned blockchain platform that would allow the military branch to manage logistic processes automatically through smart contracts and track and capture aircraft data. This blockchain system will help improve resource consumption savings and cut down operational costs.
Despite the promising blockchain projects that are taking place, the Troop Support Campaign of Learning (CoL) intends to thoroughly study and test the technology, note its key benefits and limitations, and partner up with industry experts to further build knowledge and experience in this area and ensure that blockchain technology is the right fit for their use cases. This approach will help facilitate the development of efficient supply chain operations and enable the agency to provide improved relief efforts when responding to future disasters.