As the wind and storm surge recedes, first responders are rushing in to Florida and other areas of the Southeast hit by Hurricane Irma. That first response would not be possible without the support of logistics and transportation companies that volunteer critical resources.
Those resources include trucks, drivers, trailers, and even distribution centers and warehouse space.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with people reaching out to help, asking how do we get involved,” Kathy Fulton, executive director of the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), a non-profit organization that serves as a clearinghouse for logistics and transportation services in times of crisis.
ALAN has been assisting disaster relief efforts since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the combined impact of Harvey and Irma is “unprecedented,” Fulton said. “We’ve never dealt with disasters of this magnitude in two fairly close geographic locations at the same time.”
Add wildfires in the Pacific Northwest to the hurricanes “and there’s a significant amount of disaster-related activity around the country.” That is a drain on resources that would otherwise move commercial freight this autumn as the US economy expands more rapidly.
The demand for truck capacity to aid recovery and relief efforts along the Gulf Coast and in Florida is causing unexpected eddies and disturbing freight flows in US supply chains, as equipment and goods that would have gone to the Midwest or Northeast, for example, is drawn to the Southeast and Southwest. Spot truck prices into hurricane zones are rising.
“Businesses have been impacted whether they operate within the affected geography or not, simply because of the interconnected nature of our supply chain,” Fulton said. “We’re hearing of driver shortages as far north as Michigan. We can’t discount the impact of disaster on commercial activities around the country and around the globe.”
Spot market van rates jumped 12 cents on average in the United States the week ending Sept. 2, after Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast, according to DAT Solutions. Rates to Houston jumped higher. From Dallas to Houston, spot rates shot up $1.60 per mile in a week.
Emergency relief demand in the Houston area is tapering off, and freight demand, which had risen before Hurricane Harvey, is coming back. “The demand I’m seeing is business returning or recovery work,” Brian Fielkow, CEO of Jetco Delivery, a Houston drayage and trucking company, said Monday. “We were seeing freight demand rising in our area before the storm, it really picked up in July and August. Now we’re seeing a little catch up.”
That catch up may be days or weeks away in Florida, where relief efforts are just under way.
“The question is really, once we can restore operations, what are our customers able to do?” UPS spokesman Matt O’Connor said Monday. The company’s parcel and freight operations have been restored in Texas, but even there, not all businesses are up and running.
“A lot of people evacuated Florida. How many of them were supply chain people at smaller companies where there’s not a lot of staff?” he said. “We’re talking with each customer to make a determination about when they might be ready for pickups or deliveries.”
Those determinations are taking place now across Florida. ALAN is reaching out to potential relief volunteers in and outside the state through its 26 logistics partner associations.
“We’re trying to identify resources that are up and running,” Fulton said. “Just like on a plane, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. You have to make sure your business and employees are taken care of so you can help your community.”