"Logistics makes the world a better place." When we first heard that statement some 25 years ago, it seemed a bit of a reach. Certainly, we knew that a well-honed logistics operation could make a business more profitable and make its customers happier—but making the world a better place? Really?
The press announcements that fill our inbox each day attest to that. Over the years, we've watched what was initially a trickle of bulletins about charitable doings by various industry players swell to a torrent. (Nowadays, we even highlight some of these good deeds in "Logistics gives back," a regularly occurring feature of our magazine.) But in this firmament of charitable-minded folks, one star shines particularly bright. It's a 12-year-old named ALAN.
ALAN, or the American Logistics Aid Network, was formed following Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005. The network, which serves as a conduit between the logistics community and disaster relief agencies needing supply chain support (think transportation services, warehouse space, or material handling equipment), was the brainchild of a caring soul and logistics executive named Jock Menzies.
Sadly, Menzies died in a tragic accident in 2013. Upon his death, the torch was passed to his very capable colleague, Kathy Fulton, another caring soul who has worked tirelessly to keep the flame lit. This year, however, that job proved particularly challenging—thanks to a series of decidedly unfortunate events.
The year began with ALAN still supporting recovery activities for a number of 2016 disasters, including flooding in Louisiana and Missouri, Hurricane Matthew, wildfires in Tennessee, and tornadoes in Georgia. After the activity died down, things were relatively calm for the spring and early summer. Then came August. On Aug. 24, ALAN began mobilizing in preparation for Hurricane Harvey, which slammed into the Texas coast the following day. Harvey was followed in quick succession by hurricanes Irma and Maria, putting ALAN to the ultimate test.
"The 2017 hurricane season was unprecedented," says Fulton. "Other seasons may have had more storms, and other hurricanes may have delivered more damage to larger areas and affected more people, but the intensity of Harvey, Irma, and Maria, across three different regions, with different types of supply chain disruptions in rapid succession, meant that responding agencies never got to take a breath."
From a logistics perspective, each hurricane presented a unique set of challenges. "Harvey was about access—getting around flooded areas to deliver supplies," explains Fulton. "Irma, coming right on Harvey's heels, was about individual citizens and hoarding behavior that causes things like grocery and fuel supply chain stress. Maria was, and continues to be, about infrastructure—disruption occurred at every point of the supply chain because all of the supporting components for supply chain activities, like power, water, communications, roads, ports, and people, were themselves disrupted."
Throughout it all, ALAN and its members stood by to respond to urgent appeals from relief agencies in need of logistics support. Over a three-month period, ALAN members filled requests for trucks, cargo vessels, planes, and warehouses, and even helicopters and powerboats. Although it will likely be several weeks before we have a final tally of ALAN's activities in 2017—Fulton notes that the immediate work at hand hasn't allowed time to gather the precise details—the total promises to be impressive. "My gut tells me that the last three months have exceeded the last three years of activity," she says.
Those three months won't be notable only for the unprecedented level of activity, however. They may also be remembered as the time in which ALAN truly came of age. Jock Menzies would be proud.