"Logistics makes the world a better place." When we first heard that statement some 25 years ago, it seemed a bit of a reach. Certainly, we knew that a well-honed logistics operation could make a business more profitable and make its customers happier—but making the world a better place? Really?
Over the years, we've watched what was initially a trickle of bulletins about charitable doings by various industry players swell to a torrent. But in this firmament of charitable-minded folks, one star shines particularly bright. It's a 12-year-old named ALAN.
The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) was formed following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The network, which serves as a conduit between the logistics community and disaster relief agencies needing supply chain support was the brainchild of a logistics executive with a caring soul named Jock Menzies.
Sadly, Menzies died in a tragic accident in 2013. Upon his death, the torch was passed to his colleague, Kathy Fulton, another caring soul who has worked tirelessly to keep the flame lit. Last year, however, that job proved particularly challenging—thanks to a series of decidedly unfortunate events.
Last year began with ALAN still supporting recovery activities for a number of 2016 disasters. Things were relatively calm for the spring and early summer ... and then came August. On Aug. 24, ALAN began mobilizing in preparation for Hurricane Harvey, which slammed into the Texas coast the following day. Harvey was followed in quick succession by hurricanes Irma and Maria, putting ALAN to the ultimate test.
"The 2017 hurricane season was unprecedented," says Fulton. "Other seasons may have had more storms, and other hurricanes may have delivered more damage to larger areas and affected more people, but the intensity of Harvey, Irma, and Maria, across three different regions, with different types of supply chain disruptions in rapid succession, meant that responding agencies never got to take a breath."
From a logistics perspective, each hurricane presented a unique set of challenges. "Harvey was about access—getting around flooded areas to deliver supplies," explains Fulton. "Irma, coming right on Harvey's heels, was about individual citizens and hoarding behavior that causes things like grocery and fuel supply chain stress. Maria was, and continues to be, about infrastructure—disruption occurred at every point of the supply chain because all of the supporting components for supply chain activities, like power, water, communications, roads, ports, and people, were themselves disrupted."
Throughout it all, ALAN responded to urgent appeals from relief agencies in need of logistics support. Over a three-month period, ALAN members filled requests for trucks, cargo vessels, planes, and warehouses, and even helicopters and powerboats. However, those three months won't be notable only for the unprecedented level of activity. They may also be remembered as the time in which ALAN truly came of age. Jock Menzies would be proud.