Haiti and the Role of Logistics in Disaster Relief

The images and stories coming out of Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck on Tuesday are simply heart wrenching. Tens of thousands of people are feared dead and upwards of 3 million people are in need of medical, housing, or other assistance. The only silver lining in these types of disasters is to see the outpour of support from other countries around the world. At a time when terrorism and wars occupy the headlines, it’s nice to see the world community rally around a common cause, seeing countries that are usually at odds with each other uniting to help a neighbor in desperate need.

Logistics plays a critical role in disaster relief. Getting the “right product, to the right place, at the right time” takes on new meaning when roads, airports, bridges, and other logistics infrastructure are severely damaged or destroyed. The immediate spike in demand for food, water, clothing, and medical supplies is an order of magnitude greater than most supply chains are equipped to handle. In short, disaster relief is a unique and specialized type of supply chain and logistics problem.

Militaries, with their specialized equipment and experience in large-scale logistics, play a critical role in disaster relief. But so does the private sector, as was evident in past disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Thailand Tsunami.

Yesterday, UPS announced that it was donating $1 million in cash and in-kind support to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti through its charitable arm, The UPS Foundation. According to the press release, “In addition to providing financial and in-kind commitments to Haiti relief, UPS is a member of the World Food Programme’s Logistics Emergency Teams (LETs) and anticipates the activation of those teams. The LETs initiative involves providing ‘loaned’ logistics experts to oversee on-site disaster response, normally for a deployment of three-to-six months.”

FedEx also issued a press release saying, “[We are] working with our designated charitable relief organizations to help ensure aid is on the way to Haiti. We plan to provide transportation services for the American Red Cross, Heart to Heart International, Direct Relief International and Water Missions as soon as conditions allow.”

Preparing for disasters and improving the relief process is an ongoing initiative for the logistics industry. In August 2009, for example, DHL and The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a new disaster preparedness initiative called GARD, which stands for “Get Airports Ready for Disaster.” In the press release, Matt Hemy, Vice President Security & Crisis Management at DHL Express Asia Pacific and head of the GARD program, says, “When the DHL Disaster Response Teams arrive in the aftermath of a natural disaster, we realize that most airports are overwhelmed with the surge in relief aid cargo and other support. Besides managing the disaster, these airports have to cope with the coordination of the massive support from other countries. Hence, delivering aid to the affected communities would be faster and more effective if airports were well-prepared for the sudden onset of natural catastrophes and this is a key driver for our GARD program.”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the challenges encountered in distributing donations, a group of logistics industry professionals launched the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN). Its mission is to “engage the supply chain community to support and assist humanitarian relief efforts.” ALAN is a volunteer, non-profit organization supported by leading supply chain associations, including:

  • AFFI – American Frozen Food Institute
  • APICS – The Association for Operations Management
  • CSCMP – Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals
  • Feeding America – formerly Second Harvest
  • FMI- Food Marketing Institute
  • GMA- Grocery Manufacturers Association
  • IARW – International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses
  • IRTA – International Refrigerated Transportation Association
  • MHEDA- Material Handling Equipment Distributors of America
  • MHIA -The Material Handling Institute of America
  • IWLA – International Warehouse Logistics Association
  • WERC – Warehousing Education and Research Council
  • WFLO – World Food Logistics Organization

The days, weeks, and months ahead will be difficult for the people of Haiti. Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this disaster, and our thanks go out to everyone providing logistics and front-line support to the victims.