• earthquake;
  • Geographic Information System (GIS);
  • Heckman regression;
  • logistics;
  • Pakistan;
  • relief

In Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan, Waters (2001) argues that bureaucratic rationality distracts humanitarian agencies from the needs of the people they are supposed to assist, in favour of other values that their institutional frameworks dictate. We test his claim by investigating the response to the Pakistan 2005 earthquake. One of us (Dittemore) worked with the United Nations Joint Logistics Centre in the theatre, managing a relief cargo shipment database. The response, known as ‘Operation Winter Race’, was hampered by extreme logistical challenges, but ultimately succeeded in averting a second disaster resulting from cold and starvation. We use statistical models to probe whether survivor needs significantly guided decisions to deliver relief to affected communities. Needs assessments remained incomplete and incoherent. We measure needs through proxy indicators and integrate them, on a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform, with logistics and relief delivery data. We find that, despite strong logistics effects, needs orientations were significant. However, the strength of decision factors varies between commodity types (food versus clothing and shelter versus reconstruction materials) as well as over the different phases of the response. This study confirms Thomas's observation that logistics databases are rich ‘repositories of data that can be analyzed to provide post-event learning’ (Thomas, 2003, p. 4). This article is an invitation for others to engage in creative humanitarian data management.