Advanced Visibility in Emergency Response Situations

We all know the important role that supply chain and logistics people, processes, and technologies play in everyday commerce. Those capabilities and expertise also play a critical role in responding effectively to emergency situations such as natural disasters. What unique challenges arise from these incidents? How can the supply chain and logistics industry help? How does technology support these efforts? Those are some of the questions I addressed with Kathy Fulton, Executive Director at American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) and Dr. T.J. Schaefer, Head of Strategic Programs at project44, in a recent episode of Talking Logistics.

ALAN’s role in emergencies

For those who are not yet familiar with ALAN, I asked Kathy to begin by giving us a brief overview. Kathy explains that, “ALAN was formed by the supply chain and logistics industry in response to the acute logistics challenges faced by the Gulf Coast as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There were shortages and difficulties in delivering critical items. Logistics professionals said ‘We do these sorts of things every day, we should be able to help out.’ We’ve been involved in every major disaster since.”

ALAN supports nonprofit aid and emergency management organizations that do the work on the ground. This includes providing warehousing, transportation, material handling equipment and whatever else is needed to get logistics operations working again. “It connects nonprofits to the business community by finding discarded and donated resources,” says Kathy.

The challenges

In emergency and disaster situations, supply chains can be crippled by loss of power and damaged or destroyed infrastructure. Communications and waste water infrastructure can be decimated. “It can be difficult for businesses to continue operating and can be even more challenging for the people living in these communities, especially for impoverished communities that are not as well resourced,” notes Kathy. “That’s where the nonprofit organizations come into play. Many are already working in these communities for other reasons. They have those strong relationships.”

ALAN begins by looking at the logistics challenges — damaged or destroyed warehousing, transportation issues, wrecked infrastructure, and so forth. “Often these difficulties are being faced by aid and emergency management organizations that aren’t used to dealing with logistics issues,” says Kathy. “That’s why getting supply chain and logistics professionals involved is such a good fit. While emergency management people may not be familiar with logistics, logistics professionals are very familiar with crises because they face them in one form or another every day.” Supply chain management, after all, is all about exception management!

T.J. notes that supply chain technology is even more critical during these disaster situations because those on the ground need to know where the supplies are coming from and when they will arrive. “It can literally be a life and death situation,” adds Kathy.

Measuring success

“Measuring success is pretty easy for us,” says Kathy. “Did the survivors get what they needed when they needed it? We ask our nonprofit aid partners, for example, what the impact was of the forklift we provided. But we also look at softer benefits such as the comfort and stress reduction offered by the load of diapers we delivered to an emergency shelter. The aid we provide can be anything from the pallets of water and medical supplies we deliver immediately [after an emergency occurs] to the household goods we provide after the homes have been rebuilt.”

As just one example of how ALAN works, Kathy mentioned a recent situation where a company donated a piece of equipment needed in Florida after Hurricane Michael. ALAN found a transportation partner who donated free shipment of the equipment to Florida. But about halfway there they realized no one had loaded the material handling equipment needed to get the load off the truck. ALAN searched its partner organizations and found a large grocery operation with the needed MHE literally across the parking lot from where the shipment was to be unloaded.

Getting involved

How can your company get involved with ALAN for the greater good of communities in the U.S. and around the world? How did project44 get involved and what key function are they serving in connecting volunteers with the emergency work to be done? What critical roles does technology play? What tips does Kathy have for protecting your business in a disaster? You can find the answers to these and other questions by watching the full video. Then keep the discussion going by posting a comment and adding your own thoughts and experiences on this topic!