September 22, 2017 – What Can We Do? Maria Response, Irma, Harvey Recovery
It has been four weeks that I’ve been sharing these situation reports with you. I hope they are in some way useful to you. By this point, you know where to find our needs map. You know our thoughts on collection drives. And hopefully by now you’ve joined the FEMA’s National Business Emergency Operations Center. Tomorrow we’ll get back to the practical stuff. And if you need information that you can’t find, you know you can email or text and we’ll track it down for you. Tonight, I’m taking a personal point of privilege, and sharing a bit of what’s on my heart.
As always, my deepest gratitude to each and every one of you for allowing me to serve our profession and individuals affected by disasters.
Tonight I find myself mulling the question “what can we do?” ALAN has been in battle mode for four weeks now, since Hurricane Harvey began dumping rain on south Texas. Then came Hurricane Irma with its destruction of St. Thomas and St. John’s USVI and in Florida. Now we are seeing the ghastly after effects of Hurricane Maria’s visit to Puerto Rico and St. Croix, and the destruction in Mexico City from the earthquake.
I’d hoped to offer some reassuring news that as the storm started to move away, the Caribbean was beginning the long path to recovery. Indeed, some ports today were opened for traffic, and the airport is scheduled to resume limited activity tomorrow. Unfortunately, this news is overshadowed by the update that the dam at Lake Guajataca has failed; resulting in the evacuation of 70,000 residents. If you only think about the destruction and devastation it is overwhelming. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that in the past four weeks my phone and email have received a constant stream of requests from people who want to help. Businesses and non-profits alike, all asking “what can we do?” Sometimes the question is rhetorical and defeatist, “oh gosh, the situation is so bad, what can we do”. Sometimes it is opportunistic, “We have a great product, what can we do (to get you to buy it)?” But more often than not, it has been a cry to rally the troops, to put shoulder to the grindstone, to work together to deliver life saving humanitarian aid, “we’re here, what can we do”? So, let me tell you, the beautifully diverse array of volunteers, associations, businesses, partners, friends, and family who comprise ALAN, here’s what WE CAN DO.
For those of us not affected by the disasters, we can utilize the assets and resources at our disposal. If you’re a business or individual with warehouse space, trucks, equipment, or expertise to share, offer it. EVEN if it is nowhere near the disaster area, let us know. There may be a need. We have an amazing team of volunteers – most of whom had probably never even heard of ALAN before they got drafted to help – who are reviewing these offers and looking for matches to the requests we receive.
Second, we can ensure we don’t become part of the problem. (Okay, so maybe just one little reminder to PLEASE DO NOT DO COLLECTION DRIVES.) Transportation capacity in the spot market is tight, for a variety of reasons. Let’s not choke it even more by moving truckloads of goods across the country when stores are open and disaster survivors can go shop for themselves. If you’re looking for a creative, tangible way to engage your employees, host a virtual collection drive. Pick a charity, (National VOAD has a huge list of vetted non-profits working on disaster relief initiatives) – pick a charity, preferably one that is aligned with your business and employees interests. Find out what they need – maybe a pet shelter needs blankets or food. Challenge employees to donate towards the purchase of those items – match their donations – and send a check to the non-profit. Chances are they can buy in bulk much cheaper than individuals can. AND you don’t have to worry about bags of dog food spilling all over your lobby, or how to pack it, or ship it, or make sure it doesn’t expire before it gets there.
Third, we can share information that helps emergency management with their planning and response activities. FEMA is mandated by the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) to “develop an efficient, transparent, and flexible logistics system for procurement and delivery of goods and services necessary for an effective and timely response to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters and for real-time visibility of items at each point throughout the logistics system.” Commercial supply chain professionals get to “see the whole board” – we have visibility of both capacity and capabilities. We know supply chain trends over time, we know what things should look like, and we know when they look off. Per one of our contacts at FEMA, “we want to understand what normal looks like to the private sector (from an industry perspective) in order to make better informed decisions during disaster response operations”. So as a community let’s share that data. You know what is useful to you to run your business. Tell us where you find it, and let’s help our emergency management partners help survivors efficiently.
Finally, we can build a culture of preparedness and resilience. We are approaching the last week of National Preparedness Month. There are a great number of tools and resources available from Ready.gov to use with your families and employees. As supply chain professionals, we’re already looking ahead to the busy holiday season (and probably have been all summer). Give yourself an early holiday present – get prepared. Make a disaster kit. Hold a fire drill. Meet your county’s emergency manager. (Ask some of the retailers in Texas about how fast they were able to get their trucks to stores because they had pre-positioned relationships.) The more we prepare, the more we talk to one another, the more we share our resources, the stronger we’ll be. We need you to be strong enough to withstand whatever disaster is next. We want you around!
So, “what can we do?” Turns out, quite a lot. Sometime soon I’ll share with you some of the things you’ve already done. I think some of it will surprise you. It never fails to surprise me. But we’ll leave it there for tonight.
Thanks for indulging me. Back to looking for new things WE CAN DO.
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ALAN is a 501(c)(3) organization which relies upon the generosity of individuals and businesses to conduct our operations. We never charge a fee for any of our disaster relief coordination activities or information referral services. Your donations are greatly appreciated, and may be made online.