Though the United States made it through the recent hurricane season unscathed, the logistics community hasn't forgotten the destruction visited upon the U.S. Gulf Coast by hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year. Its members have collectively resolved that the next time a big storm strikes, they'll be ready to swing into action. Toward that end, 10 logistics industry trade associations have banded together to create a program to help Americans in times of crisis. Called the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), the network is designed to assist relief agencies in providing post-disaster humanitarian aid. Although ALAN was announced in October, the member groups have yet to sign off on the bylaws, and the initiative won't get under way until sometime next year.
The seeds for the program were planted at last year's meeting of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), which took place just weeks after hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into the Gulf Coast. "Hurricane Katrina made it clear that the private sector needs to work in concert with governmental and relief agencies to speed [up the delivery of] supplies into stricken regions," says Mary-Lou Quinto, the 2005-2006 chair of CSCMP's board of directors. "We have the trucks, facilities, equipment, and logistics expertise to make it happen."
What's been lacking, however, is central coordination. In the past, logistics companies have been more than willing to help, but aid was often doled out on an informal basis, says John Nofsinger, chief executive officer of the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA). When a relief agency needed equipment or supplies, locating a donor was often a matter of luck. Last year, for example, MHIA got a call from the Red Cross in Shreveport, La., after Hurricane Katrina hit. "They found us online and wanted 100 rack uprights and 600 beams and some other material and wondered if we could help," Nofsinger recalls. "One of our members donated the material to them. It's been a situation where if they tripped over us we could be helpful, but it was the exception rather than the rule."
The ALAN network, which will serve as a clearinghouse for logistics-related resources, should solve that problem. Once ALAN is launched, Nofsinger says, relief agencies like the Red Cross and Second Harvest will know exactly where to turn in an emergency, whether they need excess refrigerated warehouse space, pallets of bottled water, or 25 forklifts to help move material at a disaster site. As Nofsinger puts it, "They'll have a store to go to with their shopping lists when the need arises."
Through ALAN, relief agencies will be able to call on the collective resources of thousands of companies across the country. Once the initiative gets under way, both companies and individuals will sign up to volunteer their skills. In times of need, government and relief organizations can go to ALAN with their logistics, supply and transportation requirements. ALAN will then contact member volunteers who can fulfill those needs. "We're the rail, truck, air, logistics, warehousing, material handling and supply chain services that can mobilize quickly to help deliver critical aid and supplies in the event of a disaster," says CSCMP President and CEO Rick Blasgen.
ALAN members' contributions won't be limited to equipment, relief supplies and services, however. ALAN volunteers will likely be called upon to lend their expertise as well. As currently envisioned, the network will also be set up to allow relief agencies to tap members' professional expertise to help develop the supply chain processes needed for disaster response before the next earthquake, flood or hurricane hits.
At least one of ALAN's founding members, the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC), is already preparing for the day when it gets that call. "WERC will tap into its extensive network of distribution experts, whose knowledge can help aid agencies improve their own logistics processes and become more responsive," says Bob Shaunnessey, the council's executive director. "WERC members proved their interest in becoming involved when they actively contributed monetary and in-kind donations to the relief efforts following hurricanes Katrina and Rita," he says. This new initiative, he adds, will formalize the process and take it to the next level.
What makes ALAN so powerful is the depth and breadth of its reach, adds Mark Richards, a member of the new initiative and a vice president of Associated Warehouses in Los Angeles. "ALAN's mission is to unite the supply chain community to support and assist humanitarian relief efforts."
Along with CSCMP, MHIA and WERC, the founding members of ALAN include the American Frozen Food Institute, Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers of America, International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, International Refrigerated Transportation Association, International Warehouse Logistics Association, and the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association.