- THE MAGAZINE
Mary Harris Jones, affectionately called “Mother Jones,” once said “Get it straight: I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell-raiser.” Fortunately, the needy have other hell-raisers following in her footsteps.
Humanitarian logistics is a branch of logistics specializing in organizing the delivery and warehousing of supplies during natural disasters or complex emergencies, bringing aid to the affected area and people. Logistics is one of the most important tools now in disaster relief operations.
ALAN Good Time
In October of 2012, the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) responded to the greatest domestic emergency since Hurricane Katrina: Superstorm Sandy. Bringing massive destruction to the Northeast, the storm impacted more than 100 million people and is expected to be among the most expensive hurricanes in U.S. history.
In Sandy’s aftermath, ALAN demonstrated its capacity for problem-solving and the value of well-established connections. Working with supply chain industry partners and organizations, such as members of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs) and state and federal emergency management agencies, ALAN identified sources for a variety of relief items, including pumps for removing floodwaters, replacement medical equipment, transportation support, distribution facilities and meals for a retirement home.
Fuel shortages were an important issue in the wake of Sandy, brought on by ship terminal damage, diminished truck capacity and highway access, and lack of electricity at gas stations. ALAN worked with the American Automobile Association (AAA) and OPISNet, a fuel price reporting network, to generate and disseminate reports showing which stations were pumping fuel. This information proved enormously valuable to state and federal emergency management agencies as well as nonprofits, and demonstrates that repurposing private-sector know-how can provide critically important intelligence during crises.
With funding from three of its association partners, ALAN sent a graduate student from MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics to work with the New York City Office of Emergency Management and nonprofit relief agencies. ALAN has designated additional reserves for logistics support of continuing recovery operations.
Superstorm Sandy also exposed weaknesses in the emergency response system. New York’s visiting nurses were not classified as emergency responders, they could not get priority at the gas pump, and many struggled to get to their patients. Another challenge developed as relief donations flooded in, overwhelming disaster response teams but delivering few priority items.
Sandy has offered hard lessons in disaster preparedness and recovery, among them: in the wake of a crisis, a rapid, coordinated effort to reestablish the flow of supplies and services helps prevent continued suffering and long-term economic harm. This entails partnerships and cooperative effort.
So, how does it all work?
Technology is a key factor to achieve better results in disaster logistics. Implementing up-to-date information or tracking systems and using humanitarian logistics software which can provide real-time supply chain information, organizations can enhance decision making, increase the quickness of the relief operations and achieve better coordination of the relief effort. Biometrics for identifying persons or unauthorized substances, wireless telecommunications, media technology for promoting donations, and medical technologies are some more aspects of technology applied in humanitarian operations.
ALAN’s web portal, www.alanaid.org, serves as “a clearinghouse for essential supplies, goods and services during times of crisis.” As the network describes, relief organizations post urgent needs on the portal; these might include requests for local warehouse space; transportation; material handling equipment; advice on how to best move products into position; or other goods and services.
ALAN’s participating companies view the requests and respond to those that match their capabilities. For example, ALAN network members have responded to requests for forklifts and pallet jacks to help with tornado recovery; transported tool trailers to help communities rebuild in the wake of devastating floods; and donated office and warehouse space to help the American Red Cross prepare for hurricanes.
Their web portal promotes targeted donations. Instead of sending random goods and supplies that could overwhelm disaster recovery efforts, ALAN businesses respond to specific requests for help from those on the ground. They channel goods and services efficiently, providing support when and where it is needed most.
The ALAN team continues to raise awareness and improve disaster response efforts, speaking at industry conventions, attending company meetings, and working closely with government planning groups. Cooperating with the Supply Chain Resilience Project, ALAN works with private entities to explore new ways to understand catastrophic risk, systemic vulnerability, and to mitigate harm to supply chains.
Director of Operations Kathy Fulton is providing input as FEMA develops a new automated tool for managing donations on a national scale. In addition, ALAN is working to promote greater access to information that could keep supply chains operating during a disaster, such as road conditions, curfews, power supplies, and communications. And ALAN is helping VOADs to streamline their operations by connecting them with business-sector experts in operational efficiency.
ALAN’s work throughout the year — performing outreach and forging connections among business, government, and the nonprofit sector — reinforces the conviction that an effective emergency response engages the whole community.
It is impossible to discuss humanitarian aid logistics without discussing ALAN, which was founded by several professional and trade associations who came together after Hurricane Katrina to help provide humanitarian relief. Today, ALAN comprises hundreds of supply-chain businesses who stand poised to respond in the event of disasters.
And it is impossible to imagine ALAN without acknowledging John T. “Jock” Menzies III.
ALAN describes itself as supporting disaster recovery by engaging industry to address the unmet needs of relief organizations, communities, and people. The job of “engaging industry” fell to Jock Menzies. So when Jock died suddenly on Aug. 17, 2013, reactions from the logistics community were immediate, sorrowful and genuine. Frankly, ALAN was heartbroken.
“Jock dedicated an enormous amount of time, creativity and enthusiasm to disaster relief and resilient supply chains, and his shoes will be hard to fill,” says Fulton. “To honor Jock’s memory, we intend to move forward with the same energy and commitment that he dedicated to the cause.”
According to Fulton, ALAN has always been a network of networks. Their strength comes, not from one or a few individuals but from associations and their members, partners, volunteers and donors.
“Whether we face a major disaster or a personal loss, our collective capacity — our combined strength and willingness to help one another — is the key to recovery,” says Fulton. “Together we are strong.”
Jock was a Baltimore warehousing executive who turned his logistics talents to global disaster relief, helping hundreds of thousands of people survive in the wake of earthquakes and hurricanes. For nearly three decades, Jock served as chairman of the Terminal Corp. in Baltimore, expanding revenue at the family business tenfold, according to its Web site. Jock was an active member of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and past chair of the Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross.
In addition to his many personal accomplishments, Jock is best remembered for helping to transform the logistics of disaster relief, co-founding ALAN in 2005 after witnessing the breakdown in relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The nonprofit tapped into transportation and logistics networks to supply water, food and medical supplies to areas hardest hit by natural disasters.
For example, Jock traveled to Haiti in the months following the 2010 earthquake, which he wrote about in his blog, where he coordinated efforts to transport Haitian orphans to safety. ALAN also assisted with the delivery of critical supplies to victims of the Japanese tsunami in 2011 and those of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. As Chairman of the Central Maryland Red Cross in 2003, he helped engage supply chain companies to assist in the wake of Hurricane Isabel.
“Jock was a generous giver of his time, always willing to explore an idea or lend an ear to friends and family. He was a gentle spirit, a visionary and inspirational leader. He had a passion for bringing people together and was gifted at helping people understand their shared goals,” says a statement from ALAN.
In the wake of Jock’s untimely death, ALAN remains committed to its purpose. The organization vows to continue to provide disaster relief and build the relationships and networks that make it possible.
For his part, Jock acknowledged that “just because something doesn’t happen under the ALAN umbrella doesn’t mean it isn’t important.”
LETs Come Together
On cloudy days, it takes a large umbrella to shield the victims of disasters. One of those umbrellas is LETs, or Logistics Emergency Teams. LETs deploy worldwide upon request from the United Nations Global Logistics Cluster using resources provided pro bono by Agility, AP Möller-Maersk, TNT and UPS, four leading logistics companies. Facilitated by the World Economic Forum, the companies joined forces to help the humanitarian sector with emergency response to large-scale natural disasters.
“Natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and tsunamis pose enormous logistics challenges,” explains Frank Clary, director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Agility. “Humanitarian organizations must quickly reach affected people with food, medicine, and shelter, at a time when roads, ports, and telecommunication infrastructure are often badly damaged.”
The LETs initiative was launched in Davos, a municipality in the canton of Graubünden, Switzerland, in 2008 under the auspices of the World Economic Forum. It is designed to allow the humanitarian community to make a single phone call and access the combined and orchestrated services of four major logistics corporations.
The Logistics Cluster, led by the World Food Programme (WFP), coordinates the logistical response to the humanitarian community in times of disaster. To activate the LETs, the head of the cluster simply requests the chairperson of the LETs companies provide support in the form of trained logistics personnel, or donated warehousing, transportation and aviation services. The companies then commit resources within 48-hours of the request.
“Our reputation is built on reliably delivering goods and services for customers in emerging markets, such as Pakistan and the Philippines, and it follows that these capabilities are readily adaptable to crisis situations,” says Clary. “Because we have experienced people, logistics assets and operations already in place — including in areas that are at high risk for natural disasters — we can quickly mobilize and donate resources and support in times of need.”
LETs has a solid track record of deployments, based on agreed mechanisms and strong relationships. To date, the LETs have been successfully deployed in humanitarian disasters in Pakistan, Haiti, Myanmar and the Philippines. They have also been deployed to Indonesia, Nigeria, Kuwait and Turkey to assist in preparing staging areas for regional humanitarian disaster operations.
Down and DRTs
Smart, comprehensive prevention measures and a state of constant preparedness are absolutely indispensable to ensuring fast and effective assistance in the event of a disaster. At the core of those measures is the strategic disaster management partnership between the United Nations and Deutsche Post DHL, an important player in the worldwide humanitarian community.
When called upon by the UN, DHL supports global relief efforts by volunteering logistics expertise, their global network and the personal commitment of individual employees.
In cooperation with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), DHL has established a global network consisting of over 400 specially trained employees who volunteer their time to be a part of the company’s Disaster Response Teams (DRT). On call for deployment in the Americas, the Middle East/Africa and Asia Pacific, once support has been requested by the United Nations, DRT teams can be on the ground and operational at a disaster-site airport within 72 hours.
The DRTs provide logistics support, such as unloading cargo planes and warehousing and inventory of the incoming relief supplies at no charge. Through their work, the teams make sure that disaster relief organizations can get warm blankets, food and medication to those in need effectively and quickly.
In mid-February, 2013, forest fires in Valparaiso, Chile, burned some 280 homes. Around 600 families had to be evacuated, and some 1,200 people were left homeless. When aid started arriving, Chile’s government agency ONEMI, responsible for dealing with national emergencies, called DHL’s DRT for support.
Together, all the volunteers worked alongside soldiers, boy scouts and members of the health organization, and a local youth group. They classified the aid, and packed red bags, known as speedballs, so the clothing which had been donated could be sent to people in need.
DHL offers regular training courses for DRT members to ensure they are deployment-ready and able to meet UN standards at all times. These courses include training in disaster management fundamentals, warehouse management and any other focus areas identified by Deutsche Post DHL, the UN and the participating relief organizations. In 2012, more than 120 employees took part in a total of four DRT trainings. For 2013, DHL has worked hard planning at least one training session for each DRT region.
DHL currently has bilateral memorandums of understanding with 11 countries in disaster-prone regions. With such agreements in place, future DRT deployments can be executed without bureaucratic delays. As stipulated in the memorandums of understanding, the governments can also contact DHL directly to request the services of DRTs.
Predicting the next disaster or need for aid is not merely difficult, it is impossible.
Logistics is one of the major tools of disaster preparedness, among surveillance, rehearsal, warning, and hazard analysis.
As Jock Menzies often said, “No one can predict when or where the next emergency will occur, but we can reduce the impact of disasters through planning, working cooperatively, and through bolstering communities’ ability to respond and recover.”