Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana yesterday (August 30), and FreightWaves Classics profiled the United Cajun Navy.
Today, FreightWaves Classics profiles the American Logistics Aid Network, another organization that also helps those impacted by natural disasters. A quote from its website says it all: “When disaster strikes, few things are more important than good logistics. In fact, it’s often the key differentiator between wanting to deliver help and actually being able to.”
Also known as ALAN, the American Logistics Aid Network is an “industry-wide organization that exists to provide supply chain assistance to disaster relief organizations (and other non-profits).” ALAN does this by “bringing the expertise and resources of the logistics industry together with non-profit disaster relief organizations so that we can help solve their most pressing supply chain challenges immediately after disasters strike. That way, help – and hope – arrive sooner.”
Perhaps equally important, ALAN assists humanitarian organizations make every logistics dollar count. Studies show that “up to 80%” of humanitarian organizations’ crisis spending is for logistics. “And of that, as much as 40% may be wasted simply because these organizations don’t have the right supply chain equipment, knowledge or connections at their disposal.”
ALAN can help “these organizations accomplish far more, logistically, than they could on their own, so they multiply the good that their missions do. And more survivors get the assistance they need.”
Felicia Alexander, Region IX Director for ALAN, stated, “We’re not going to be the people handing out the meals or bottled water to someone affected by a disaster. But we’re here to make sure those items get to the people who do.”
Like the United Cajun Navy, ALAN was founded in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina. Since then, ALAN has connected companies that have logistics resources to organizations that are responding to disasters and need logistics support. Logistics plays a critical role in disaster response, particularly after the first 24-72 hours. During those first hours and days, relief groups are focused on survivor recovery, and providing basic needs such as food, water and shelter.
“ALAN does incredible work during the most difficult of times,” FreightWaves Founder and CEO Craig Fuller said in 2019 when the company made its first donation to ALAN. “Its efforts demonstrate the importance of what our industry does, and it represents the best of what we have to offer – utilizing our capabilities as a force for good. We will continue to support ALAN’s efforts well into the future.”
While (now) Tropical Depression Ida continues to do damage to the Gulf Coast, it is moving inland. The death toll at this time is (thankfully) very low. However, hundreds of thousands of people are without electricity, and infrastructure damage is widespread.
In August 2005, as Hurricane Katrina was pummeling the Gulf Coast, people across the United States reacted as they usually do in the wake of a natural disaster. Contributions of food, water, medicine and other key necessities were donated. The challenge is rarely asking the American people to give.
The challenge after Katrina was “finding ways to get the contributions into survivors’ hands.” It was a transportation and logistics challenge “unlike anything most disaster relief professionals had ever faced. In fact, it was a logistics nightmare.”
As noted above, that led to ALAN’s founding. The following information comes primarily from ALAN’s website. It has been edited for this article.
What does ALAN do?
ALAN evolved to help deliver aid to communities affected by crises. It provides “disaster relief organizations (and other non-profits) with supply chain assistance when and where it’s needed most.”
Is ALAN a “competitor” to disaster relief organizations?
No. ALAN is a resource for those organizations – and to work alongside them as needed when disasters strike. ALAN is a partner member of the Voluntary Organizations Active In Disaster (VOAD) at both the state and national levels. It was named the partners of the year in 2018 and 2010. In fact, VOAD named its partner of the year award after ALAN’s founding president, the late Jock Menzies.
Don’t most disaster relief organizations already have logistics operations? Why do they need the help of an organization like ALAN?
Some do, but some do not. However, at some point, almost all of them struggle with some area of their logistics – including trying to stretch every warehousing and transportation dollar they have in order to achieve the maximum impact.
What’s so difficult about disaster-related logistics?
If the last 18 months has taught transportation and logistics professionals anything, it is that supply chains are fragile. Getting items delivered during “normal” times can be challenging. “In the aftermath of a natural disaster, supply chains have to be built ‘on the fly,’ in a place where you’ve rarely (or perhaps never) done business, all while trying to navigate a system of ports, airports, roadways or railways that might be severely damaged or temporarily blocked.”
That is the challenge that many disaster relief organizations face when crises hit. It’s also what makes an organization like ALAN so critical.
What kinds of assistance does ALAN provide?
ALAN is available to help connect relief organizations with the supply chain equipment, services, expertise and support they need most. As a result, it primarily provides help in four areas:
- Ground transportation
- Warehousing services and space
- Material handling equipment, including pallets, forklifts, pallet jacks and boxes
ALAN’s information management expertise
After disasters strike, there are usually numerous transportation variables that need to be addressed. These include:
- Assessing the latest road conditions (and closures of the same)
- Figuring out which area providers and services are operating
- Knowing whether or when logistics services to that area are going to be available
- Sorting out who the key disaster relief players (key non-profits and government agencies) are in order to avoid duplication of effort
ALAN is available to help organizations find the right answers ASAP. In some cases, it already has this data because of its participating partners, IT systems, and the years spent focusing on supply chain disaster relief.
Does ALAN purchase logistics services?
ALAN typically does not purchase logistics services for our response activities. ALAN is reliant on donations of these services from generous companies and individuals from throughout the supply chain community.
What kinds of products is ALAN asked to help move most often?
Transporting hydration, usually in the form of bottled water, has been the number one need. Other common requests include food, medical equipment and supplies, generators/power supplies, pet care items, and hygiene and cleaning supplies.
What piece of material equipment is ALAN asked to find a donation of most often?
Many relief organizations are sorely in need of pallet jacks and pallets themselves. Both are easy for non-profits to use and apply to a challenge without requiring formal industrial equipment training.
What logistics service is ALAN asked to help find a donation of most often?
Long-haul transportation is by far our number one request. Sadly, it’s also the hardest to fill.
How can a member of the logistics community get involved?
There are many ways to be part of ALAN’s efforts, including:
- Providing in-kind donations of logistics services, equipment or facilities
- Volunteering time and expertise
- Providing financial support by becoming a sponsor, member or one-time donor
- Serving as an information ambassador by liking ALAN’s Facebook posts, re-tweeting items on its Twitter feed or including information about ALAN on LinkedIn or your company’s blog.
The bullet points above were bolded on purpose… FreightWaves urges companies and individuals in the transportation/logistics/supply chain industries to consider contributing to and working with ALAN.
Author’s note: Photos for this article came from the ALAN Facebook page. FreightWaves is grateful for their use.