miércoles, 6 de agosto de 2014

(iii) Tents and shelter. Hidden costs in humanitarian aid and emergency. ASSEMBLY

Is it just the price of the emergency tent the only important thing for taking the right decision when selecting a tent for emergency brigades?


Emergency aid activity is not a matter of money in the sense of money that can be produced by the people working on it, but it does not mean that the money or the hidden cost is not something important for the emergency activity.

How can influence in the cost of using a tent the assembly time and the people needed to assemble it?

This is the question that I am going to try to answer today.

The emergency, of course, is a matter of productivity, of urgent productivity!! It is important to be able to serve as many urgently needed of assistance people as you can in the shortest period of time, for instance when searching for victims of an earthquake under the debris of collapsed buildings.

Productivity of emergency services is something associated with persons, the persons at the emergency aid side, persons who must be ready to work hardly, so it is important for them using their time effectively. In such a context, it is important to reduce to the minimum necessary the auxiliary activities like the one of putting on a tent or caring about it in order to have the tent ready to use. All that can be done to ease the job of emergency brigades is going to improve their productivity and their capacity of concentration and to avoid annoying distractions that can disturb their work.

To set up an emergency tent would be nice if it could be done in a 'pop up' way just like modern individual tents can, but for big size tents - big enough to give adequate service to emergency brigades, as dormitory, canteen, command tent or others - it is something that has not been made possible yet. And I personally do not recommend a pop up one.

There are many manufacturers that are aware of that need and do their best to improve assembly time. But there is a difference between being aware and being committed to. Very frequently the real world is a bit apart from the manufacturer's specifications!

When you see that a tent it is claimed to be assembled in 3 minutes, it is important to know what period of time these 3 minutes are referring to and how much people is needed in the operation.

When it is a matter of assembly just one tent, it may be not so important, but as the number of tents increases the assembly time starts to become important and even crucial.

To be able of comparing the assembly time associated to different tents, it is important to have a truly comparative unit. The most common is to compare a rule of thumb. But the mistakes made can be quite big. Even it is scarcely used, there is only one possible unit that can be used to make real comparisons: The unit to be considered is the man-hour or man-minute for shorter operations.

Of course is not the same A) to assemble a tent in 5 minutes, with 4 people that B) to assemble one in 8 minutes, with 2 people. In the case A) in fact 5x4=20 minutes-man are needed to assemble the tent while in B) 8x2=16 minutes are needed: 4 minutes less, a 20% of time less than in case A)!!

But why it is important also to refer to the same period of time? The time for tent's assembly should be considered from the moment it is going to be placed at the site where it is going to be set up to the moment when the tent is ready for use.

Some tents are very heavy and they need to be carried by four strong man or more, or even by a forklift to be placed on the site. Once again, it is not the same thing to carry over a 100 m distance two tents, of same size and for same use, one being carried by 4 people and the other only by 2. And, of course, it is quite different to have a tent that can be carried inside just one bag, or to have two or three packages to carry. As more packages you have, the more time consumed in bringing them to the place where the tent is going to be used.

One more thing to be considered is the unpacking of the tent, it is not the same to have several packages that having only one, and it is not the same to have a easy to access boxlike package that to have one with a narrow hole through where to extract all the pieces of the tent. All these simple operations are time consuming and they need persons who performed them, so a wise way to compare the assembly time of several tents is to count all these operations in man-minute unit basis and then compare the final figures. It can led to a nasty surprise for you when you compare the assembly time stated by a manufacturer and the real time needed.

It is important the time needed to place every part of the tent in the right place in order to have them ready to be assembled.

Finally, it is not less important to consider how many tools are needed and how small the pieces are, as the smaller pieces in the package are, the easier to lose some of them while assembling the tent; as more tools or machinery needed, more possibilities of loosing some, not finding them at the right place, or breaking a tool. In case of fuel fed machinery it is also important to consider the inconveniences of fuel supplying.

It is not negligible the time to disassemble the tent and to pack it, sometimes the choice is to leave the tent there, but not always is the one desired.


1) To be sure of how much time is consumed in an emergency tent assembly, it is necessary to consider:

i) Man-minutes to carry the tent package over a standard distance, 100 m for instance.
ii) Man-minutes to unpack the tent pieces and place them at the right position to easy the assembly
iii) Man-minutes to prepare and have ready the auxiliary machinery for assembly
iv) Man-minutes to assembly the tent.

2) The cost in man-minutes, or man-hours, is a non recoverable cost: When you lose time at the emergency site, you cannot recover it anymore, so, either you use more people for same tasks, or you reduce the time used in aiding victims.

3) Some hidden costs difficult of being evaluated are the cost of loosing tools or breaking them or the cost of loosing small pieces of the tent that must be substituted by improvised pieces not so efficient as original ones.

Next: Transport...

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