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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) came under considerable criticism after hurricane Katrina for its slow response. Green Belt Charles White really dug into FEMA’s processes and identified opportunities to make significant improvement with some common sense changes to material handling and loading.

At the time of publication FEMA has been responding to the aftermath of hurricane Florence, so the results are not in, but Charles’ work looks very promising. We look forward to updating this after the Florence data has been processed.

– Bill Eureka, Master Black Belt Coach

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Executive Summary

Business Case

There were twelve disasters in 2017/2018 that cost the American people over a billion dollars each. FEMA has had dissatisfied customers for many years so increasing lead time to supplying disaster survivors would turn the public’s perception about the agency. Some monetary benefits will come as a result of this process improvement such as saved money on transportation, salaries, contracts, and inventory expenses.

Root Cause Analysis

Research showed two distinct bottleneck located at the distribution center and relief sites. Also a lack of distribution centers, personnel (mostly volunteers), and Urban Search and Rescue teams cause added lead time and extended man hours. Lack of communication between federal agencies, state, and local governments needs improvement and standardization.

Solutions Implemented

  1. Implement supply container system
  2. Utilize trucks and equipment made for better mobility
  3. Implement downtime prepackaging of supplies in containers
  4. Implement downtime cross-training of all supporting agencies at all levels
  5. Increase the number of Urban Search and Rescue teams to 50
  6. Improve lines of communication between all levels of government

Project Results

  • Customers reporting higher levels of satisfaction
  • Less trucks are needed to transport containers because they can drop them off and go pick up other loads
  • Pre-packaging time eliminates wait time for loading supplies
  • Communication lines improve along all levels of government
  • Container loading Lead Time has reduced from 30 minutes to 10 minutes
  • Improved cross-training reduces wait time for hurricane survivors to get supplies

Graphical Display of Improvement

Charles White Green Belt Project Storyboard -

Key Takeaway: This project has many working parts on many different government levels. One of the only ways I could show how this system would improve from the old system was to simulate how it would have improved lead time during old hurricanes. There are no true quick wins, all implied solutions would take some time to implement. If FEMA and other agencies communicate, however, they can have some new polices implemented within aa little as one year. 


Project Charter

Problem Statement

Since the turn of the century, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in natural disasters. From Hurricane Katrina to the more recent Hurricane Harvey, they have destroyed major parts of the United States costing thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has taken some criticism for their slow response to these major disasters. In the majority of cases Hurricane victims would go without help for more than a week.

Goal Statement

Decrease cycle time for responding to natural disaster victims from 4-8 days to 2-4 days or less by December 2022.


  • First Process Step: Hurricane occurs
  • Last Process Step: Deliver relief supplies
  • In Scope: System upgrades, hiring of additional staff, process steps, delivery methods
  • Out Scope: Restructuring of chain of command

Business Case & Benefits

Decreasing cycle time for getting supplies to hurricane victims would greatly increase the survivability of victims. An increase in the number of hurricanes and their magnitude over the last 18 years has cause for concern. If we don’t start a major revamp of FEMA’s process, many more people will die from not getting the aid they need at the time they need it. This would reaffirm the people that their government is working hard towards a better and more efficient system.


Phase Planned Actual
Define February 5 February 28
Measure March 2 April 20
Analyze March 30 May 22
Improve April 21 June 18
Control May 27 July 13

Team Members

Position Person Title Time Commitment
Team Lead Charles White Green Belt Candidate 100%


Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Key Takeaway: Survival supplies is the key factor when we talk about hurricanes or any natural disaster. Water is the most essential resource needed to sustain life, however, it is also very heavy and takes up a lot of space. Evacuation is key when it comes to hurricanes, since we only have days to track the accurate path of them. Evacuation will mitigate a majority of the people that would be effected by a hurricane, yet, FEMA should be prepared to support half the population of where the storm would impact. This would mean millions of people could be needing survival supplies from agencies like FEMA.

Vale Stream Map

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Key Takeaway: As you can see by the value stream map, the Process Time (PT) for getting supplies for 100,000 survivors is pretty close to 7 days by the end of the cycle. The Value added to the process is what the survivors want, which is supplies for surviving (water, food, shelter, and generators).  The rest of the process is just non-value added steps.  There is a lot of unnecessary waiting, motion, transportation, and inventory throughout the process that I will discuss during the next couple of slides.  Your Takt Time drastically increases as more and more people are affected by a hurricane. If you take a metropolitan area like Hampton Roads Virginia, which includes close to 2 million people, 10% of that is 200,000 people. 10% of the population is what you shoot for because the state would impose mandatory evacuation, hopefully, days before the storm hits.


Operational Definitions

  • Lead Time: The amount of time (in days, hours, or minutes) it takes from when natural disaster occurs to when the victims are either evacuated or life is sustainable.
  • % Extended Delivery of Supplies: The number of people who cannot be reached in order to provide aid within 2-4 days divided by how many people receive aid.
  • Storm Arrival: From the time a storm makes landfall, till the time it is safe for emergency services to move in.
  • Search and Rescue: Search and rescue teams come together to determine a evacuation plan for the seriously injured and ill personal.
  • Data Delivery Time: When the storm has passed, how much time dose it take to determine how many people are affected, and prioritize who needs supplies the most.
  • Supply Prep Time: The amount of time it takes to removed supplies from trucks, boats, or helicopters and properly prepare them for distribution. As supplies come in, break down and combined supplies to make packages tailored to the need of the hurricane victims.
  • Delivery Time: The amount of time it takes from supplies to get from supply centers to victims in need. Determining safe supply centers and or drop off points is key in the delivery step. Some victims may not be accessible by conventional means, so deviations may occur.

Data Collection Plan

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Key Takeaway: Data collection may become complicated but can stay ‘somewhat simple’ if you involve lower level managers or project leads. I used the phrase ‘Somewhat simple’ because the process IS complicated, however, if we focus on specific portions of the process separately, then we can simplify one process at a time.

Baseline Run Chart

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Key Takeaway: As you can see by the graph above, the average number of days it takes for shipments to be complete is 96 days. This is based on the truck loading time of 30 minutes multiplied by the number of shipments. If you take out Hurricane Maria, which is the outlier, the average drops to just above 73 days. Loading trucks as they come in to a distribution center is time consuming, making for delays and backup.  

Swimlane Map

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Key Takeaway: Hurricanes can be tracked for many days before the actually make landfall, being precise is the harder part. The area where it might make landfall could be hundreds of miles long forcing a large amount of people to prepare or evacuate for the hurricane.  The next three slides will demonstrate the supply process for a hurricane.

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Key Takeaway: In this portion of the Swimlane map, FEMA must coordinate with other federal agencies which include the DOD, DHS, and USDA.  FEMA has to call private contractors to contract trucks and drivers to come and pick up aid. This amount could extend to hundreds of trucks that get called upon at the same time, causing a bottleneck at the distribution center. When they’re loaded, they then head to the pre-determined relief site.

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Key Takeaway: When the trucks arrive at the pre-determined relief site, trucks sit there waiting for instructions, sometimes for days. This costs FEMA and the State many millions of dollars just to keep these truckers waiting. FEMA can deliver supplies for up to several weeks after the hurricane has already passed. 


Fishbone Diagram

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Key Takeaway: Although FEMA may run out of funds, depending on the magnitude of the hurricane, the President can sign a disaster relief package. Some examples of this would be when President Bush signed a 51.8 billion dollar relief bill in 2005 in a response to Hurricane Katrina, and when President Trump signed a 36.5 billion dollar disaster relief package, and a 15 billion dollar disaster aid package amid Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. 

Bottlenecks, Handoffs and Decision-Making

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

  • There are clear bottlenecks in FEMAs process. When a hurricane disaster occurs they call upon hundreds of trucks all at once.
  • There is no telling how many trucks may come at one time. Trucks could be waiting for hours to get loaded.
  • Research has shown, from eye witness accounts, that hundreds of trucks may be waiting at once at the pre-determined relief site.
  • A lot of the waiting is due to lack of communication between federal, state, and local officials. Decision-making between all three levels and multiple federal agencies is also going to add to the lead time.

Handoffs and Decision-Making

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

  • According to the official FEMA website once supplies have reached the relief site the state takes control of all supplies.
  • Auditors for the state of Florida Division of Emergency Management found in a 2016 annual audit that the state was ill prepared for a major disaster.
  • That same audit discovered that the State Logistics Response Center in Orlando, used to warehouse disaster relief supplies, was more than half empty wasting space and millions of tax payers money.
  • Because of this shortfall the state of Florida had to scramble to restock shelter supplies before Hurricane Irma hit the coast in Sep. 2017.
  • FEMA expects Florida and any other state to have enough supplies to be self-sufficient for the first 72 hours after a disaster occurs.

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Key Takeaway: The entire structure from federal emergency management, all the way down to local, is very complicated. First, FEMA has to report to the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS). Then, FEMA has divided the United States into ten regions who coordinate with the State Emergency Management team.  Each state is then divided into more regions, and in the case of Florida, it is divided into seven All-Hazards Incident Management Team (AHIMT) regions. Each team helps support the State Emergency Response Team (SERT), and advises situational awareness and operational planning.

Supply Shortages

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

  • According to FEMA’s 2017 after-action report after Hurricane Irma hit, FEMA distributed more than 80% of all commodities at their Caribbean Distribution Center.
  • This would leave less than 20% of warehouse supplies for the impact of Hurricane Maria because supplies were not replenished in-between hurricanes.

Key Takeaway: The supply system can have a major impact on lead time, because you may have to wait for supplies for days. As you can see by the chart FEMA only had two weeks to resupply their supplies between hurricanes. We know when hurricane season is, so having a surplus of supplies could a good idea during that time. Even adding an extra warehouse that supports and stocks all the other small distribution centers would be a great idea.

Root Cause Hypothesis

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Key Takeaway: So not only was there a disconnect between federal and state officials, but the state has trouble keeping up their own supplies. In this case the state called upon FEMA to help resupply their response center before Hurricane Irma hit. A simple and easy way to get rid of this decision making, is to have an automatic system that when your surplus is gone, it would automatically order it for you. This could be considered a quick win that could be implemented throughout the states and FEMA’s network of distribution centers.


Impact Effort Matrix

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

Key Takeaway: None of my solution options can be considered a quick win. Most of them may take years to implement, but will have everlasting effects.

Converting to a Container System

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

  • One 40 foot container can hold up to 20 North American Standard pallets.
  • Each pallet of water, which contains 72 cases of 16.9 oz water bottles, weighs 2,200 pounds, multiply that by 20 pallets equals 22 tons plus the container weight of just over 4 tons you are under the 35 ton limit.
  • Containers cost anywhere between $2,250 on eBay to $9,750 for used refrigerated 40’ containers.
  • So if FEMA wanted to make an initial purchase of 10,000 units to start, it would cost them $22,500,000 pending a bulk discount which is very possible.
  • Container lifting system provides a four mobile electro-hydraulic jacks that can lift up to 35 ton containers anywhere desired.
  • According to Joloda Hydraroll, manufacturer of this container lifting system, the system cost 25% less than any conventional forklift or crane system and has a turnaround time of 20 min per container.
  • This system can be brought to any site anywhere and deployed within minutes.

Key Takeaway: Water is the key essential when we talk about survival so that’s why I focus so much on it. Water is not only the heaviest commodity, it is also the most frequently used of all commodities provided to survivors. That’s why I make the case that containers can handle a full load of water and keep the elements out. There is an abundance of containers at our ports because shipping companies don’t send them to their original location. This means that FEMA could pick up a bunch at a discounted price. 

For an ideal system you would get at least four container lifting systems, giving FEMA the ability to unload multiple trucks at the same time. This will also reduce lead time unless a forklift, reach stacker, front loader, or straddle carrier is available. These are all great options that could be put on a flatbed truck and deployed wherever needed.

Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

  • The main focal point for changing to containers is mobility. There are many different methods that can make container usage a better system for disaster relief.
  • First, FEMA wouldn’t need as many truck drivers as they do now. Not only that but they wouldn’t have to pay these drivers to sit at the relief site for days on end.
  • Second, you can contract trucks that have this side loading system as displayed in the first video. This whole process takes two minutes with the truck driver operating the lift system.
  • Third, a cart system like the one displayed in the second video can make moving containers easy. These could be used at the warehouse or relief site.

Key Takeaway: A 20-foot container can hold 10 pallets making for 11 tons, plus the container weight of 2 ½ tons. The United States Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion can lift up to 16 tons of cargo from sea to land, 50 nautical miles and return. The new version CH-53k King Stallion can lift even more weight and travel twice the distance, but won’t be in service until 2019. This would also increase mobility to flooded areas and any areas where road transportation can not be accomplished. 

Downtime Preparation

  • The biggest advantages to adding a container system is being able to pre-load the containers during downtime.
  • This would essentially eliminate loading trucks with pallets as they come into the FEMA distribution center.
  • The distribution workers would simply crane each container on the trucks with the pre-loaded supplies thus eliminating the bottleneck at the distribution center.
  • Once at the relief site the containers can be taking off the trucks with the Joloda Lifting System and the trucks can be sent back to the distribution center to pick up more loads.
  • This way FEMA can gather supplies at the relief site and keep a handful of trucks there to distribute supplies when needed.

Key Takeaway: This process would eliminate the second bottleneck, by ensuring hundreds of trucks aren’t left on an airfield wasting gas and charging the government an hourly rate.

Downtime Cross-Training

  • If you take a situation like Hurricane Maria, which destroyed Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, the logistics became overwhelming.
  • Some of the Federal agencies participating in Search and Rescue (SAR) mission included: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP).
  • One of the major problems with Hurricane Maria was not so much a supply shortage but supply chain logistics. The port at San Juan, Puerto Rico was full with shipping containers.
  • FEMA employs 28 Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams which partners federal, state, and local emergency responders.
  • These teams are located throughout the United States and consist of 70 cross-trained, multi-faceted personnel. These task forces can be called upon to any disaster area to assist in search, rescue, medical, hazardous materials handling, logistics and planning.


  • Key Takeaway: Why is there only 28 US&R teams when there are 50 states? I believe that expanding the program to include all 50 states would greatly benefit disaster relief. Not only expanding the program, but also expanding the personnel employed by each team. This way each state has a team that lives and works within the territory, making them experts within their territory. They can train, research, and become familiar with the states potential hazards pertaining to natural disasters. If a natural disaster happens within their state, they become the on-site leaders because they are already the local experts. If any other out-of-state team or federal agency wants to assist they have to go through the state US&R team. 

    Before & After Improvement Chart

    Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

    Key Takeaway: This chart demonstrates how a container system would have knocked down the lead time (in days) for each individual hurricane. You have to remember a portion of the relief supplies are left out because they were donations. These shipments are all the supplies provided by FEMA. If we estimate that each truck tacks 30 minutes to load, the green bars demonstrate how long it took to load supplies for each hurricane. The orange bars demonstrate a new container system that is preloaded, and only needs to be put on a truck. As you can see, it can take as little as 2 minutes to load a 40ft container; I went on the high side and calculated 10 minutes per container. 

    Baseline Run Chart

    Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

    Key Takeaway: As you can see by the chart, the next major Hurricane would be Hurricane Florence. Since it just happened a few weeks ago, and the recovery effort is still on going, the information will not be available probably until next year. With anywhere between 5 million and 10 million people within the effected area, Hurricane Florence numbers could end up between Hurricane Harvey’s and Hurricane Irma’s shipment numbers. Everything at this point is up for speculation.


    Innovation Transfer Opportunities

    Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

    Key Takeaway: All of the DMAIC controls that I have talked about through this PowerPoint should be implemented across all FEMA distribution centers and US & R teams. In order to be as efficient as possible, all distribution centers must have the same practices. Not only should the FEMA distribution centers conform to one system, but the state ran emergency response centers should follow suit. In the end, when one major hurricane affects a large populated area, FEMA as a whole is going to use all of it’s resources to aid in the effort to sustain life. If the systems are different or out-of-date throughout all of the distribution centers, they may not be able to respond in the same way, therefore causing even more delays.

    Monitoring & Response Plan

    Green Belt Project Storyboard - Charles White -

    Key Takeaway: There may be a few years of trial and error to truly come up with the most efficient way to deliver supplies. Using advances in technology, like Blockchain management, could help bring transparency across the board by eliminating a lot of paper (if not all). Trucking companies are already looking toward Blockchain to help boost efficiency and increase transparency, making for brisk payments and boosting work order productivity. 

    Project Closure

    Lessons Learned

    • Remember to involve everyone early from federal, state, and local agencies.
    • Ensure new units are trained and integrated properly.
    • Make sure each teams knows there respective responsibilities.
    • Involving each department increases the overall knowledge base, and it also improves communication between agencies at all levels.
    • Do ensure the public is informed of our progress to change and make the disaster relief process faster.

    Customer Impact

    • Citizens are more willing to volunteer their time seeing that FEMA has become more efficient, modernized, and organized.
    • FEMA and other supporting agencies get a bigger budget making it easier to upgrade there systems and change their process.

    Final Calculations

    Hard Savings: Reduction in transportation cost by having the ability to drop containers off at the relief site and continue back to the distribution center to pick up another load.

    Hard Savings: Greater production from prepackaged containers so if a storm gets worse FEMA has the ability to to increase production easily.

    Hard Savings: Reduction in overhead cost.

    Soft Savings: Time savings at distribution center due to new setup – staff available to work on other tasks such as crane loading trucks.

    Soft Savings: Increase in customer satisfaction.

    Soft Savings: Increase in inventory by using containers to store goods.

    Sign-off From Project Sponsor

    The FEMA reduction team did an outstanding job!!! I am proud to sign this green belt project off and assign the next green belt task to the team. – Charles White, Team Lead


    • AHIMT: All-Hazards Incident Management Team
    • DOD: Department of Defense
    • DHS: Department of Homeland Security
    • FEMA: Federal Emergency Management Agency
    • NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
    • SERT: State Emergency Response Team
    • US&R: Urban Search and Rescue
    • USDA: U.S. Department of Agriculture

    Project Storyboard

Charles White

Charles White is a former United States Marine Sergeant who now works for the U.S. Navy as an Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor. He recently obtained his Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and is currently working towards his Black Belt to further improve his transition into civilian life. When he is not working he enjoys biking, playing video games, gardening, and spending time with his lovely family in Virginia.

Bill Eureka

Bill Eureka is a Senior Consultant at and has over 40 years of success helping leading organizations achieve their continuous improvement goals. He’s an experienced trainer, mentor and coach with the ability to relate to all levels within an organization. Bill is also a Professor in the School of Business at Davenport University.
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