Saturday, September 24, 2005

What's so hard about logistics?

Many defenders of the government's response to Katrina point to the logistical difficulty of getting resources to where they needed to be. In the great Random Fluctuations tradition of oversimplifying complex problems, I thought I'd take a look at the question of how hard it would have been to get water to all those people in the Superdome. (Food is much ligher and easier to transport than water, so I'll assume that if you can get water there, you can get the food there too.)


One 2-liter bottle of fluid per day is enough to greatly alleviate the suffering of one person.

There were 23,000 people in the Superdome that needed water.

A standard Chinook helicopter can carry 26,000 pounds, and would have been able to land at or very near the Superdome.

Given these assumptions, we see that the Superdome required two liters of water times 23,000 people times 2.2 pounds/liter, or about 10,000 pounds of water. This is four trips from a helicopter per day.

Let's take this a bit further... a Chinook's range is 230 nautical miles or approximately 260 miles. Looking at Google Maps, Port Arthur (say) is less than 260 miles away from New Orleans, and wasn't badly damaged by Katrina. A Chinook flies 143 knots or 160 mph. So say we had just one Chinook available to ferry supplies from Port Arthur to New Orleans. It'd take roughly two hours to fly to New Orleans, say an hour to unload, two hours to fly back, and one last hour to reload and refuel. Six hours total, so it could make four trips in a day. In short, one helicopter could do the whole job of keeping the Superdome supplied with water.

How could this be a logistical impossibility? I'd be the first to admit that I know nothing about helicopters or logistics, but as long as the water bottles were stockpiled somewhere in easy-to-handle crates before the storm hit, I don't see anything complicated about this. Either my assumptions are screwed up, or the government is. Even if my assumptions are screwed up, I don't see how they could be so screwed up that the job couldn't have been done by, say, three helicopters. And I'm pretty sure this nation has more than three helicopters available to it.

So anyway, the logistics excuse seems pretty weak right now. But if someone out there actually knows something about this subject I'd love to hear about it.