A New Definition For Disaster

. . .take the need created in the aftermath of a hurricane, earthquake or pandemic, add chaos and massive quantities of inbound inventory.

If there's one thing that is needed during the response to a natural disaster, it is organization, points out DHL's (www.dhl.com) Chris Weeks. "You need to put some leadership in place almost immediately that knows what needs to be done."

DHL has stepped up and offered its leadership to coordinate the flow of relief goods through air facilities supporting recovery efforts. It has formalized these efforts in its "disaster response team," the latest of which was established in southern Florida as the Western Hemisphere hurricane season got underway.

DHL got started by looking at what did not work well during the response to an earthquake in Iran a few years ago. Since then, Weeks and DHL have had plenty of opportunity to fine tune their efforts. Weeks has personally participated in relief efforts following the South Asian tsunami in December 2004, an earthquake in Pakistan, post-Katrina relief efforts in the United States and an earthquake in Indonesia.

DHL formed a partnership with the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (http://ochaonline.un.org/) which takes responsibility for a broad organization of relief efforts. UNOCHA clusters groups working on shelter, food, water, sanitation, and education so they can focus on their areas without stepping on each others' toes, says Weeks. DHL concentrates on airport operations in the affected area.

Weeks summarizes five key needs during a relief effort.

You need good communications, he says. Not only do you need a solid physical network, you have to be able to communicate with your base, government and non-government organizations (NGOs), and whoever is sponsoring your effort.

Transport is also critical to move goods and people around. This includes getting your team to and from their accommodations between shifts. Relief workers coming into the area need a place to stay. Weeks has learned from experience that getting away from the noise and bustle of the operations center is vitally important to reduce the stress created by the operations.

Related to transport is the need for a broad range of equipment to perform the work. Lift trucks are important. Weeks says a couple of large (10-tonne capacity) lift trucks to move air pallets and two or three smaller lift trucks generally do the job. But, he found in the tsunami relief effort, the lift truck sometimes comes with a driver, and when that driver leaves and takes the key, it seriously impairs the operation.

Going back to his first point, Weeks stresses the need for people who understand the need and can take the initiative to get things done. There's also a coaching element. The team that is providing temporary assistance needs to train people who are local so they can take over when the volunteers leave.

DHL's recently formed disaster response team in southern Florida covers the Americas. The team has 80 trained volunteers in various locations throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and the Southern United States. Like their counterparts in Singapore (which serves southern Asia), the team responds to "sudden-onset natural disasters" by sending in an advance party to assess the situation and establish a memorandum of understanding so they can operate.

A second team of seven to 10 people comes in during the first week and manages the flow of goods through the airport. They will rotate out of the region and be replaced by another team after about a week. In addition to basic skills, the volunteers may have added capabilities like language skills. All are trained in relief operations, including things like non-verbal communication.

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