ANNAPOLIS, Md. — In October of 2012, the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) responded to the greatest domestic emergency since Hurricane Katrina: Superstorm Sandy. Bringing massive destruction to the Northeast, the storm impacted more than 100 million people and is expected to be among the 10 most expensive hurricanes in U.S. history. Today, the organization celebrates its accomplishments while recognizing the opportunity for further improvement in emergency management processes.
The unique capacity and expertise of supply chain organizations make them an asset in any recovery operation. According to Jock Menzies, ALAN president, “A particular strength of ALAN’s network is that its members tend to be problem solvers. Supply chain management, by its very nature, requires working with others and finding the best and most efficient alternatives. These traits are extremely valuable when confronting the crisis of an extreme event, regardless of scope.”
In the aftermath of Sandy, ALAN demonstrated its capacity for problem-solving and the value of well-established connections:
Working with supply chain industry partners and organizations such as members of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs) and state and federal emergency management agencies, ALAN identified sources for a variety of relief items, including pumps for removing floodwaters, replacement medical equipment, transportation support, distribution facilities, and meals for a retirement home.
Fuel shortages were an important issue in the wake of Sandy, brought on by ship terminal damage, diminished truck capacity and highway access, and lack of electricity at gas stations. ALAN worked with the American Automobile Association (AAA) and OPISNet, a fuel price reporting network, to generate and disseminate reports showing which stations were pumping fuel. This information proved enormously valuable to state and federal emergency management agencies as well as nonprofits, and demonstrates that repurposing private-sector know-how can provide critically important intelligence during crises.
With funding from three of its association partners, ALAN sent a graduate student from MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics to work with the New York City Office of Emergency Management and nonprofit relief agencies. ALAN has designated additional reserves for logistics support of continuing recovery operations.
Superstorm Sandy also exposed weaknesses in the emergency response system. For example, because New York’s visiting nurses were not classified as emergency responders, they could not get priority at the gas pump, and many struggled to get to their patients. Another challenge developed as relief donations flooded in, overwhelming disaster response teams but delivering few priority items.
Sandy has offered hard lessons in disaster preparedness and recovery, among them: in the wake of a crisis, a rapid, coordinated effort to reestablish the flow of supplies and services helps prevent continued suffering and long-term economic harm. This entails partnerships and cooperative effort. “No one can predict when or where the next emergency will occur,” said Menzies. “But we can reduce the impact of disasters through planning, working cooperatively, and through bolstering communities’ ability to respond and recover.”
The ALAN team continues to raise awareness and improve disaster response efforts, speaking at industry conventions, attending company meetings, and working closely with government planning groups. A member of a regional catastrophic preparedness Supply Chain Resilience Project, Menzies works with private entities to explore new ways to understand catastrophic risk, systemic vulnerability, and to mitigate harm to supply chains. Director of Operations Kathy Fulton is providing input as FEMA develops a new automated tool for managing donations on a national scale. In addition, ALAN is working to promote greater access to information that could keep supply chains operating during a disaster, such as road conditions, curfews, power supplies, and communications. And ALAN is helping VOADs to streamline their operations by connecting them with business-sector experts in operational efficiency.
ALAN’s work throughout the year—performing outreach and forging connections among business, government, and the nonprofit sector—reinforces the conviction that an effective emergency response engages the whole community.