July 2, 2019
Column | outbound

Helping others and helping yourself

As hurricane season arrives, there are things logisticians can do to stormproof their own supply chains and then use their assets to help others.

By Mitch Mac Donald

There are countless ways a company's supply chain can be disrupted, some foreseeable, others not. In recent years, we've seen companies brought to their knees by everything from political turmoil and freight capacity issues to cyberattacks and natural disasters. Given the severity of the threat, you might think supply chain contingency planning would be at the top of everyone's list today.

Think again.

A June report from Vuealta, which bills itself as a "connected planning specialist," suggests that U.S. businesses have a ways to go in this regard. In a survey on how businesses are managing supply chain risks, the company found that more than a third (36 percent) of respondents doubted their supply chain was robust enough to withstand any threat or market challenge, while around half felt their leadership did not understand the potential impacts of political and market uncertainty, a cyberattack, or a natural disaster.

As we are now a few weeks into the Atlantic hurricane season, this would be a good time to make sure your own operation is prepared for the latter type of disruption. (The Vuealta report, The Future of the Supply Chain, offers some recommendations in that regard. You can download it here.)

The other side of the logistics coin with respect to natural disasters, of course, is humanitarian relief. When disaster strikes, the logistics community responds. Time and time again, we've seen companies from all corners of the community step up to offer logistics services, equipment, and expertise. If you and your company are of like mind, you may be wondering how you too can help.

That's something the fine folks at the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) know a lot about. For almost 15 years, they've been providing supply chain assistance to humanitarian relief efforts, and staffers regularly field questions about what companies can do to help out. In a blog post earlier this year, Kathy Fulton, ALAN's executive director, offered some guidance in that regard, sharing a list of practical Dos and Don'ts for those interested in supporting relief efforts. They included the following:

  • Do go ahead and make a "pre-offer." If you have warehouse space, trucks, equipment, or expertise to share, go ahead and offer it as the storm approaches (you can do so here). The more advance information ALAN has about available resources, the faster it can fulfill requests for assistance as they come in.
  • Don't assume you can't be of help just because your operations are nowhere near the disaster area. Often, the donated materials that urgently need to get to disaster sites are located much farther away and require more logistics support than you might imagine. That means that however unlikely it might seem, the equipment or services you're offering may be just the ticket.
  • Do check ALAN's disaster micro-site often. The aid group updates the site frequently before, during, and after natural disasters as conditions change, including posting specific relief requests and sharing weather and infrastructure updates.
  • Don't host a collection drive for products. Although the intention behind these drives is good, they often create more problems than they solve—including funneling more products into a supply chain that's already under tremendous strain.
  • Do consider helping in other ways instead. As an alternative to collecting supplies, consider picking a humanitarian organization (you can find a list here) and collecting money for it. Unlike many post-disaster product donations (which often end up in landfills), your dollars won't go to waste.

Of course, in order to help, you first have to put your own house—or in this case, supply chain—in order. Or to paraphrase the airline oxygen-mask drill: Put your own mask on first; then help others.

About the Author

Mitch Mac Donald
Group Editorial Director
Mitch Mac Donald has more than 30 years of experience in both the newspaper and magazine businesses. He has covered the logistics and supply chain fields since 1988. Twice named one of the Top 10 Business Journalists in the U.S., he has served in a multitude of editorial and publishing roles. The leading force behind the launch of Supply Chain Management Review, he was that brand's founding publisher and editorial director from 1997 to 2000. Additionally, he has served as news editor, chief editor, publisher and editorial director of Logistics Management, as well as publisher of Modern Materials Handling. Mitch is also the president and CEO of Agile Business Media, LLC, the parent company of DC VELOCITY and CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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