Adventures In Logistics: Coronavirus Edition

I have long puzzled over and been intrigued by problems of logistics, and even in times like these logistics proves to be among the most important aspects of our lives.  Today I would like to examine some of the ways that even in the midst of panic and crisis that logistics dramatically shapes the lives we live in, in a similar fashion to previous discussions of such matters [1].

Yesterday I received an article in my inbox from one of the local television channels and it talked about the bus drivers of a school district in Clackamas county that was being celebrated for delivering meals to students on free or reduced lunch along the bus routes.  I happen to know one of the bus drivers from that school district, although I do not know if she was driving food along her normal route, and it was pleasing to see such a clever solution to the concern of making sure that children from impoverished households were able to eat enough even if they were unable to get to school.  After all, it was precisely concern for the problems of feeding impoverished youth that led some other school districts to avoid canceling schools.  Problems of logistics can occasionally be solved through creative means and it is an excellent thing to have food delivered by the same networks that bring children into schools.

Indeed, the logistics of food always weighs heavily on my mind.  The state of Oregon, along with a few other areas, has closed down dine-in restaurants for the next four weeks or so (at the time of this writing), and that leads to some interesting questions as far as how people who frequently depend on such networks of establishments are to survive.  Some restaurants have chosen to suspend their operations entirely for the next week weeks.  Still others have partnered with logistics companies that deliver food and have offered reduced hours on their schedules and maintained drive-through or take-out or delivery options for food.  However one looks at it, the roads look decidedly emptier now and offices and other areas resemble ghost towns.  Being a somewhat unsociable person this is not such a bad thing, but all the same it is certainly interesting to see.

And while the sudden disappearance of toilet paper has been among the more comical aspects of his particular crisis, there are supply chains relating to medicine and health that have been notably affected by the Coronavirus.  Our president, for example, has already drafted and may soon publish an executive order moving the supply chain for various items home.  In an age where travel can facilitate the spread of disease, it is perhaps unsurprising that the vulnerabilities that result from extended supply chains should become a problem that we notice after having for so long seen such supply chains promoted as a good thing.  It is helpful from time to time to realize that globalization and massive supply chains and the free movement of people carry with them consequences and vulnerabilities as well as the lure of profits.  I say this, moreover, as someone who quite enjoys being free to travel around the world and enjoy the sights and sounds of other societies and cultures.  There are always trade-offs, and it is not always obvious whether the benefits of openness outweigh the costs of such openness, something that may have serious consequences even after this disease has run its course.

All of these problems, and a great many others (including the supply chains of grocery stores and the reliance on UPS and other shippers to provide valuable goods and the choice to try to focus medical care in hospitals and not in clinics because of a perceived scarcity ahead) are connected by being matters of logistics.  And if most of us seldom think about logistics as a subject, it is little surprise that logistical matters should be important in our lives.  The question of where we are allowed to travel, how it is that we are to obtain goods and services that are necessary to survival or that make life easier or more pleasant, and how it is that we are to obtain useful or necessary medical care are all logistical questions of high importance.  In times like these it is worth pondering these questions and seeing the way that events can shape the logistical possibilities to answering the question of how resources are to be allocated in a world that sees itself under siege.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Adventures In Logistics: Coronavirus Edition

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    I, too, am a person who naturally thinks about logistics. It surprises me that so few people do. My daughter-in-law had commented a few days ago that she was not able to find any toilet paper when she was shopping. She lives just across the bay. We were able to by an eight-pack at the Big Lots near the AFB just the day before and were surprised to hear of the shortage. We soon learned that shortages in several things, such as eggs, certain meats and certain canned goods top the list as well. People are afraid and want to insure themselves against the “what if” scenario, but that isn’t possible. The best thing to do is to figure out how to get the supplies to the stores and the safest way for people to access them.

    On a more positive note, our Central Florida school buses are delivering food to students. With the school closures and so many of them on the free or reduced lunch programs, they would not have enough to eat otherwise.

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