Back in 2005, in the shadow of the disaster created by Hurricane Katrina, a group of logistics professionals met during the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' annual conference to talk about how professional trade associations could assist with disaster relief. The result was the formation the following year of the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN).
The goal was simple enough: to become a conduit connecting humanitarian organizations engaged in disaster relief with those companies that could provide goods, supply chain expertise, and material handling, warehousing, transportation, and other logistics services.
ALAN taps into what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature." When hurricanes, tornados, floods, fires, and earthquakes do occur, the outreach by people and businesses anxious to help can be phenomenal. But the logistical challenges of ensuring that goods and materials get where they're needed can be daunting.
Mark Richards, vice president of Associated Warehouses Inc., serves as vice president of ALAN. He says, "If we can work together, we can really make a difference in humanitarian supply chain." (The group's president, John Menzies, is one of DC VELOCITY's 2009 Rainmakers.)
ALAN's organizers have spent much of their time up to now building bridges to humanitarian organizations and figuring out how to put their plan to work. The group took a major step last fall when it formed a partnership with Aidmatrix, a Web-based system that provides real-time information on goods and services needed and links potential donors to organizations that can use their help.
Within days, the partnership was put to the test when Hurricane Gustav roared across the Caribbean and parts of the United States. Using the system, David Zuern, vice president of North American logistics for Invacare, was able to connect with Catholic Charities. As a result, Invacare donated mattresses, wheelchairs, and walkers worth some $500,000 to the group.
A new hurricane season is upon us, and ALAN's development continues. And, as Richards points out, a disaster of some kind is likely happening somewhere every day. Although these events don't always make national headlines, the needs are still real, and goods and services are still required. ALAN's Web site, alanaid.org, provides information on what's needed and how to help.
Menzies, Richards, and the other volunteer executives talk about the organization with genuine passion. They believe that effective logistics and supply chain management can make a difference in people's lives at the best of times. They are committed to ensuring that is also true at the worst of times.