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December 2017
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Hurricane aid logistic needs continue

The impulse when people see news coverage of events like Super Storm Sandy is to say ‘How can we help?’ So they send blankets to people who are cold and food to people who are hungry. Or they send money so people who lost everything when their homes were destroyed have the barest of necessities at a shelter. Or they donate water for people who don’t have any to drink. Those donations have to get to the disaster area. And when they arrive, they then have to get to the people who need them. Since material handling is all about getting things where they need to be, it plays a pivotal role in moving donations. “Disasters are all about logistics,” said Kathy Fulton, director of operations for the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN). “Our community just really understands that and knows how to deal with that.” Warehouses need to sort and distribute a large volume of donations quickly. “There was an outpouring of support. People were really willing to step up,” Fulton said. Companies donated hand pallet jacks, trailers and warehouse space. They offered transportation of critical items, donated durable medical equipment, loaned refrigerated trailers. And the knowledge and expertise from material handlers were just as indispensable, she said. It doesn’t need to be ALAN or the Red Cross that receives the help, as long as the help gets where it’s needed.

ALAN issued advisories throughout Sandy to:

  • Ensure that donation needs are made visible to the logistics industry
  • Leverage members' supply chain management knowledge and resources
  • Create an efficient process for providing the right goods and services in the right quantity, at the right location, at the right time

“Our convenient and easy-to-use web portal gives companies an efficient way to view relief needs and determine if their resources are needed in times of crisis. They also can determine the contribution level and recipients best suited to their charitable giving goals and the products, services and expertise they have available,” says the website at

In the aftermath, it became apparent that donations of equipment were wonderful, but adding the right person to run the equipment would be even better. “A non-profit partner working with donations said their efficiency would be greatly helped if they could have an experienced forklift driver for a week,” Fulton said. “Having a skilled lift operator spend a week at the warehouse would help that organization immediately and expedite donations that need to be processed.” ALAN began after Hurricane Katrina, when supply chain failure and logistics issues were clearly a major issue. ALAN helped with the Haiti earthquake and the tsunami in Japan, but Sandy is the largest domestic disaster since it was founded. Some companies have standing commitments to provide in kind support to specific relief agencies, said Jock Menzies, president of ALAN. Some have contracts with non-government agencies to help in a disaster.  Those relationships make the response quicker. “Several years’ work in this area teaches one that it is hard to predict the failure points, which may seem obvious in hindsight. The impacts of these failures and the work-arounds are the surprises. Looming large in Sandy were the flooding of underground infrastructure in New York City and the systemic failure of fuel distribution – water delivery disrupted, terminals down, transport disrupted and lack of power at the service station level,” Menzies said. ““We see our role as to support the hero who is the service provider on the ground, and particularly in the early stages, don’t want to be part of the problem by being in the middle of an operation without a specific and valuable role to play,” he said. Menzies, Menzies, chairman of the Terminal Corporation in Baltimore, saw the need during a disaster close to home. “Nine years ago, I was chairing a regional Red Cross chapter when Hurricane Isabel came through the mid-Atlantic,” Menzies said. “In that role, I saw the need and opportunity to support the non-profit relief agency community. After Hurricane Katrina, there was a groundswell of interest from industry associations to be able to help out in these events, and ALAN is an expression of that.”

In early December, Fulton saw for herself the devastation. “We’re really still in response mode,” she said. “There are still people without power. But groups are already talking about lessons learned, which is important for future events.” The Federal Emergency Management Administration said 356,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by Sandy. As people start to rebuild, homebuilding supplies will be moving to the affected areas. “There will be opportunities for the material handling industry to provide volunteer support,” including forklifts with special attachments designed to move the lumber and other construction needs, Fulton said. Some response agencies anticipate needs will continue for at least three years.

Sandy cut a $65 billion path of destruction through 24 states. More than 250 people lost their lives in the storm.

Mary Glindinning is a freelance writer who has worked at daily and weekly newspapers for more than 20 years. She lives in rural Shullsburg, Wis. E-mail to contact Mary.