How standards and modularity can improve humanitarian supply chain responsiveness. The case of emergency response units


  • Jahre Marianne
  • Fabbe-Costes Nathalie


  • Health
  • Modularity
  • Humanitarian logistics
  • Flexibility
  • Standard
  • ERU

document type



Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to increase understanding of the use of standards and modularity for improving responsiveness in the humanitarian context. Design/methodology/approach – Based on a conceptual framework and a systematic literature review, the authors conducted a longitudinal, explorative case on the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) concept in the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Society (IFRC), focussing particularly on the Health ERU in the Norwegian Red Cross. Findings – The authors found that the ERU concept makes use of many types of standards that complement and influence each other, and that the focus on modularity is increasing due to a growing need for responsiveness. Main challenges are trade-offs between autonomy and adaptability to the context resulting in more modularization which may be in danger of breaking the concept. Research limitations/implications – Results from this study could be refined by surveying staff involved in all types of ERU deployments. To explore the generalizability of the findings and test the propositions developed, more studies should be conducted. Practical implications – The study provides more understanding of the use of standards and modularity for improving responsiveness. Practitioners can use the framework as a check-list to identify potential means for improvements. The case can be used for training, discussions, and reflections. The research feeds into IFRC’s and NORCROSS ongoing work to their global response tools. Social implications – The results of the study can support improvements in humanitarian supply chains, thereby providing affected people with cost-efficient, rapid, and better-adapted responses. Originality/value – The authors develop a framework for categorization of standards and modularity in the humanitarian context. The authors provide the first empirical study on how humanitarian organizations use standards and modularity to improve responsiveness concluding with a set of propositions on how the concepts are linked.

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