CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
January 19, 2020
Forward Thinking

Donations to Australian wildfire victims swamp region's charity infrastructure

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Despite challenges, country's businesses are maintaining supply chain operations thanks to "pre-planned resilience-led approaches," local disaster relief worker says.

The rash of wildfires burning across Australia has torched an estimated 18 million acres and killed dozens of residents and thousands of livestock in recent weeks, an impact that has now pushed local authorities to plea for donors to stop sending unsolicited goods that are overwhelming their limited warehouse and transportation resources.

In a statement this week, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews—the equivalent of the region's governor—asked well-meaning supporters to send financial donations instead of food and clothing to help victims of the incidents, which are known as "bushfires" in the area.

"I don't want to appear harsh in any way, but we don't need any more clothes, food, trucks on our roads, we don't have the warehouse capacity, the people or the time to sort through," Andrews said in published reports. "I know it all comes from a place of kindness and I thank everybody who's made those donations but we are getting to a point where we don't have the space or the people or the need."

Despite the flood of donations overwhelming charity centers, the country's bigger businesses—including major supermarket chains like Woolworths Group—have been maintaining their logistics operations, thanks to a coordinated approach they deployed since the first bushfires started before Christmas, local authorities said.

Those businesses activated "pre-planned resilience-led approaches" that have enabled them to continue working closely with local store managers and to instantly understand stock levels in each of the locations, according to Renae Hanvin, founder and director of Corporate 2 Community (C2C), an Australian firm that works to create collaborative solutions for disaster recovery by coordinating the efforts of business, government, and communities.

Those processes have also enabled them to monitor the storage of critical foods and to ensure that food safety standards such as refrigeration were being sustained on all shipments being taken into the affected areas, she said.

"When the bushfires escalated, these large corporates worked very closely with regional emergency services leaders to coordinate the priority movements of the trucks - including police escorts of key critical needs product delivery," Hanvin said in an email. "For example there would be a convoy of corporate organizations delivering these needs, across varying corporates, escorted by emergency services personnel together."

In addition to those efforts by retailers, corporate donors have also linked their efforts closely with local relief center coordinators to ensure that deliveries of other essential items are handled properly for processing and storage, she said. C2C is continuing to help coordinate those efforts through its website by offering free "strategic disaster giving advice" for groups looking to support victims of the natural disaster.

"Woolworths and other major retailers have not seen any serious impact to their logistics at present," Hanvin said. "Given the everyday scale of Australia, it's been relatively business as usual - aside from road closures."

The success of Australian companies in maintaining operations appears to prove the value of advice often given by the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), the North American group that coordinates donations of logistics goods and services to supplement non-profit organizations' response efforts following natural disasters. In a recent message delivered as many U.S. businesses prepared for the 2019 hurricane season, ALAN advised organizations to set their priorities before the next storm hit, allowing them to follow established contingency plans in the midst of hectic conditions.

 

ALAN is not participating in response to the current Australian fires, although the group does occasionally extend its charitable work overseas. During 2019, ALAN guided shipments and storage of food packets, medical supplies, and cleaning materials for the Bahamas, supported relief efforts for Cyclone Idai, helped with the movement of goods that went aboard the USS Comfort off of Venezuela, and helped transport three mobile clinics to fight an Ebola outbreak, an ALAN spokesperson said.

Ben Ames is Editor at Large and a Senior Editor at Supply Chain Quarterly’s sister publication, DC Velocity.

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