Business ServicesSeptember 24, 2019

How Natural Disasters Test Supply Chain Response

Every business has its supply chain planning puzzle, DELMIA Quintiq (part of…
Avatar John Martin

Every business has its supply chain planning puzzle, DELMIA Quintiq (part of Dassault Systèmes) likes to say, and that’s equally true for nonprofit organizations. In disaster relief, for example, food and supplies can’t do any good if they don’t get to the right people and locations. After Hurricane Katrina, the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) reported that parking lots of shopping centers were stuffed with unnecessary clothing, while shipping and handling capacity for essential items was sorely needed. Relief agencies found it difficult to operate; many donated items didn’t get to those impacted by the storm.

Two platforms are central to humanitarian relief efforts—one for collaboration, another for supply chain planning and optimization. The collaborative platform is the control room for coordinating organizational response; the technology platform helps manage inventory and distribution.

ALAN is one of the collaborative platforms. The network was founded by professional and trade associations after Hurricane Katrina to help deliver humanitarian relief. Its web portal is a clearinghouse for vital items and services during a crisis. Relief operations can post their needs on the portal for things like volunteers, local warehouses, transportation, material handling equipment, and requests for logistical advice. For example, for Hurricane Dorian, you can click on View Logistics Needs right now on their site.

ALAN’s member companies and organizations—experts in transportation, warehousing, supply chain planning, distribution, etc.—respond to requests that match their know-hows. Network members provided forklifts and pallet jacks after a tornado; transported trailers of tools to help communities rebuild after floods; and donated office and warehouse space to the American Red Cross.

The goal is to target donations to precise needs—like private companies fit item assortments to localized markets. This allowed David Zuern, at the time VP for North American Distribution & Logistics at Invacare Corporation, to “connect with Catholic Charities in NO TIME at all through the site. … I was able to send mattresses, wheelchairs and walkers… It’s nice to know that this product will be used for a good purpose.”

That’s where the technology platform comes in. For example, supply chain planning and optimization vendor DELMIA Quintiq donated time and resources to the World Food Programme. DELMIA Quintiq brought its mathematical and constraint programming and path optimization algorithms to the task of helping the WFP determine where and when to buy product for food baskets; how to receive and disburse in-kind donations; how to reduce logistics costs; and how, when, and in which products to invest new funding.

Private-sector companies have always helped commercial supply chains figure out how to deliver the goods; more and more, nonprofits are looking to them for assistance. Mark Richards, vice president of Associated Warehouses, Inc. and an ALAN senior executive, perhaps said it best: “Supply chain professionals have tremendous power to make a positive difference for disaster survivors.”

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