Some of the biggest humanitarian organizations arrange their own logistics. But most organizations must buy those services, and after large-scale disasters even the largest groups must scramble to supplement their networks. Delivery logistics consumes 60 to 80 cents of every aid dollar contributed, aid groups say, even without the headaches involved in actually finding and scheduling reliable transportation to disaster-stricken areas where communications are down and roads destroyed.
The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) helps handle this, at little or no cost to aid organizations. Founded in the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, ALAN is a nonprofit network of transportation, warehousing, cold storage and distribution trade organizations that eases the flow of aid to disaster sites. Members that have done business in the disaster zone use their supply chains, contacts and clout with the local authorities to help deliver assistance, including to their employees in the disaster zone.
Relief organizations post urgent needs on the ALAN website, including requests for transportation or storage space, loading and unloading, or information on conditions.
This week Kathy Fulton, ALAN’s executive director, is organizing transportation to Puerto Rican hospitals of donated wheelchairs, medical and surgical supplies from Global Links, a medical relief and development organization based in Pittsburgh.
“Logistics is the most complicated part of disaster response,” says Angela Garcia, Global Links’s deputy director. “We need to get the right things to the right place at the right time, so we don’t create a disaster after a disaster. ALAN understands the importance of the details, staging, timing, and having both ends covered — where is it leaving from, where is it going.”
Ms. Fulton helped connect Worldwide Tech Services, which maintains and repairs satellite communications for Hughes Network Systems, with nonprofit relief groups that arranged to fly parts to San Juan needed for downed communications networks at the airport, weather service and elsewhere. She even channeled 100,000 cases of drinking water donated by Pepsico into FEMA’s relief supply chain.
Ms. Fulton is based in Lakeland, Fla., in offices donated by her former employer, Saddle Creek Logistics Services. She is the only paid employee of what is a virtual organization, with a $180,000 annual budget. Last year, the organization moved $13 million worth of aid, or $72 in cargo for every dollar in its budget. With this year’s disasters, it’s likely to handle $50 million worth of cargo on the same budget.
“People think about logistics as trucks or boxes or whatever.” But in a disaster, “logistics saves lives,” Ms. Fulton says. “You can’t do anything without it.”