How combining the capabilities of multiple partners can help us confront the logistics challenges of disaster response
Solving global challenges in today’s interdependent world increasingly requires collaborative efforts and fresh approaches that combine the capabilities of different partners. Following the devastating impact of natural disasters in recent decades, the international community has increased its efforts to improve disaster management in order to establish a global system of preparedness, responses and reconstruction. And the United Nations (UN) is working together with governments, NGOs and the private sector to achieve this goal.
In the wake of a natural disaster, victims are often dependent on the emergency aid they receive, which makes it vital to get those supplies to them as quickly as possible. Our experience shows that the swift distribution of emergency supplies is fundamentally a logistical challenge – one that becomes critical when major access routes are destroyed, as was the case only a few weeks ago when Cyclone Idai devastated Mozambique. The logistics of disaster response management also becomes a major challenge when relief efforts require the coordination of many different teams with different levels of expertise.
The international community has become quite adept at mobilizing shelter and medical supplies in the immediate aftermath of a natural event. However, as fully loaded aircraft arrive one after the other, local airports are often quickly overwhelmed by the sudden influx of goods and ill-equipped to handle the situation.
Without logistical support, bottlenecks may develop that slow the flow of emergency aid. Tarmacs can fill to overflowing, making it impossible for incoming planes to land. The lack of coordination also means that aid often cannot get to the right place once it is on the ground.
Our GoHelp program is a strategic disaster management partnership with the UN aimed at tackling these challenges. It combines the strengths of the two organizations, resulting in a highly focused system for disaster preparedness and response. By leveraging our experience and global presence as the world’s leading logistics provider, we can support the logistics of the relief efforts both prior to and following a major sudden-onset natural disaster.
As part of GoHelp, we have a global network of three Disaster Response Teams (DRTs), which work pro bono and in partnership with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Based in Singapore, Panama and Dubai, our DRTs cover the Asia Pacific, Americas and Caribbean, and the Middle East and Africa regions. Altogether we have around 500 specially trained volunteers standing by to deploy at any time at a disaster affected airport to support with the handling of relief goods.
Beyond the devastation, natural disasters often leave behind a chaotic relief environment. While search and rescue efforts are underway in the immediate aftermath, medical and other relief teams are trying to get into place to help those in need.
For example, when we arrived in Palu following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island in September 2018, we found badly affected airport with few machinery available, no electricity, limited waterand no cellphone network. Goods were being dropped on the runway with no protection from the elements. It was literally a race against time to carve out space on the runway to avoid overcrowding, and to source the machinery needed to move and store the goods safely.
That’s where our DRTs come in. Equipped for rapid deployment, our teams can be on the ground and operational at any airport in the world within 72 hours of receiving the call from the UN.
On average, the teams are on the ground for a period of two to three weeks, overseeing the initial wave of relief aid until it has subsided to a level that the airport authorities and their local partners can manage themselves.
Working together with local authorities as well as both local and international organizations, we generally deploy to the airport nearest the affected area. Our job is normally to handle the incoming air freight and prevent bottlenecks. We do this by organizing the processing and transfer of incoming relief goods from the aircraft to the delivery vehicles. This also includes setting up and managing an efficient warehouse at the airport, transferring the goods from aircraft pallets to standard wooden pallets, sorting and inventorying, and loading onto delivery vehicles.
Sometimes we act as a “control tower” – a central coordinator bringing together multiple parties in the relief effort. That was the case in Indonesia, where we organized daily briefings with NGOs, the UN, the World Food Program and military forces to match available aid and returning pallets with the right aircraft while also confirming the corresponding flight itineraries with airport authorities.
Since the program was launched in 2005, our DRTs have deployed over 40 times to more than 20 countries. Missions have followed cyclones in Fiji and Myanmar, earthquakes in Nepal and Peru, flooding in Panama and Guatemala, hurricanes in Puerto Rico, and, most recently, the cyclone in Mozambique, our first deployment to Africa.
To bolster disaster preparedness, we also spearhead the UN’s GARD program (Get Airports Ready for Disaster), which aims to help airport managers and agencies better manage the influx of incoming emergency relief in the wake of a natural disaster. Together with the airport management staff the DHL GARD team conducts training activities on-site around the world, evaluates airport capacity and assesses the regional logistics set-up – all of which are essential to help local authorities and airports better prepare for the unexpected.
Thankfully, more and more companies are joining forces with the UN to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems. Our GoHelp program demonstrates how the business world can leverage its expertise to hep the international community confront specific challenges. By bringing together a wide range of knowledge, skills and experience, these public-private partnerships can make a significant contribution to improving lives around the world.