Edition 51
Sustainability: One Mission, One Team
by Laura Nixon, Editor, Reverse Logistics Association

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Whether made by man or by nature, a disaster leaves distraught and displaced people in its wake. Any time there’s a natural disaster in this country, the local heroes tend to be ordinary citizens, rescue personnel and … retailers? Companies like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart are first on the scene with truck loads of emergency supplies. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the retailers had their stores reopened before the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived on the scene. The retailers were able to get water, food and other necessities to the hardest hit areas. Home Depot used buses to transport 1,000 employees into the area to help with relief efforts. Wal-Mart provided free merchandise, including prescription drugs, to evacuees at the Houston Astrodome and the Brown Convention Center. During the Florida hurricanes of 2004, Home Depot hired Kuehne & Nagel, a global logistics network, to manage an Orlando-based distribution center to support relief efforts. Both Home Depot and Lowe’s were able to resupply their stores immediately after Hurricane Charley hit southern Florida in 2004. Lowe’s delivered 51 truckloads of batteries, 87 truck loads of plywood and other supplies within the first 36 hours.

As Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on the Gulf Coast, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott reportedly issued the following edict: “A lot of you are going to have to make decisions above your level. Make the best decision that you can with the information that’s available to you at the time, and above all else, do the right thing.”

At least two Wal-Mart employees took him at his word. A Kenner, La., sales associate used a forklift to knock open a warehouse door to get water for a local retirement home. In Wavel and, Miss., a store manager ran a bulldozer through her store to collect undamaged goods, which she piled in the parking lot for local residents. Then she broke into the pharmacy because the local hospital was running out of drugs.

During disasters, Wal-Mart puts its own nationwide response center in motion, with sophisticated communications and a state-of-the-art shipping network. Wal-Mart has an emergency management department comprised of four divisions that deal with preparedness, long-range planning, emergency operations, and mitigation and recovery. The Bentonville, Ark., team responds to all hazards, including floods, ice storm, blizzards and man-made disasters. When the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, Wal-Mart was there with bottles of water, sunscreen and power bars. Wal-Mart employees also brought supplies to the World Trade Center collapse in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We have different levels of activation, depending on the situation,” said Bryan Koon, the company’s senior operations manager for emergency management. Koon pulls team members from merchandising, facilities maintenance, legal, finance, logistics and corporate giving. Meetings are sometimes held by videoconferencing. Wal-Mart also has its own meteorologist on staff and a proprietary storm tracking system that overlays its store locations. “We need access to real time weather data so we can prepare our facilities and employees and know where the safe areas are to put down equipment and supplies,” Koon said.
But there are lessons to be learned. Wal-Mart, for instance, requires its top managers to sit together while coordinating its disaster response. “It’s the person from operations sitting next to the person handling logistics,” said Jason Jackson, the retailer’s director of business continuity. “So when the first person says, ‘I need ten trailers of water,’ the next person says, ‘I have it available,’ and the third person says, ‘I can get it there.’” Coordination must be like clockwork, with shipments delivered safely, securely, and on time. When you need an expert to focus on shipping and distribution, so the focus can be redirected to aid, UPS should come to mind. They have proven experience, innovation, and commitment. From the Midwest to the Middle East, Africa to Japan, we use our logistics expertise--and sometimes our volunteer base--to anticipate possible problems and customize the perfect solution.

UPS has collaborated with the World Food Programme (WFP) to create Logistics Emergency Teams (LETs). This cross-company partnership relies on employee volunteers with warehousing, transport, and logistics expertise. 

Based all around the world, these teams are deployed within 48 hours of a humanitarian crisis. Similarly, a partnership has been created with the American Red Cross to establish Logistics Action Teams (LATs) in eight states. These teams are comprised solely of employee volunteers who work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), FEMA, and state governments to mobilize hurricane and tornado relief more efficiently.

Efforts include:

- Distribution of clean-up supplies
- Pickup and delivery of meals to feeding sites
- Transportation of shipments from warehouses to service delivery sites
- Consultation on warehouse design to optimize space and improve distribution

These big corporations and their partners assist in helping the damaged communities repair in time of need. It’s also important to remember the people of these communities and the resources that are available from local agencies that volunteer their time and efforts. During emergencies, whether caused by tornadoes, fires, floods, earthquakes or something else, if there is a Mormon congregation close by, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often among the first to provide resources or to help in other ways. Latter-day Saint congregational communication lines and the Christian principle of helping your neighbor drive Mormons’ effectiveness in mobilizing volunteers and supplies in crisis situations. During disasters, other church programs pay for needed supplies. Mormons simply give of their time, the commodity most often in short supply in any community. The primary focus is to be good citizens and to make a difference in their communities.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) respond to both natural disasters and complex emergencies. The approach of CRS’ emergency response programming is through a framework of saving lives, supporting livelihoods and strengthening civil society. From the very beginning of a disaster, CRS works with the affected community with the ultimate goal of moving from relief to reconstruction. The agency also supports programs that prepare communities for natural disasters.

The tornadoes that struck the Midwest this week, killing dozens and destroying hundreds of homes and schools in the Oklahoma City-suburb of Moore, likely caused more than $1 billion in damages. And it’s not just tornadoes that wreak this kind of havoc. From wildfires to hurricanes, the country has suffered dozens of natural disasters that have left billions of dollars of damage in their wake.

There are so many organizations that contribute to the well being of Americans during a crisis, that it’s impossible to name each and every one. The importance of this story lies with each effort put forth to help a person in need, to create a sustainable environment and dependability. From small acts of kindness to monetary donations, all can benefit from any assistance during a catastrophic event or disaster.

Take a moment to consider how many professional doctors, nurses, paramedics and EMTs were on the scene before the Boston Marathon tragedy struck. Because of the large number of participants and spectators, Massachusetts officials consider this event to have been a “planned mass casualty event.” The planning goes on all year and requires deployment of an impressive number of medical personnel. Considering the types of injuries caused by the blasts, these people undoubtedly reduced injury and saved lives.

Yet there are also amazing stories about bystanders as heroes. Volunteers and spectators provided aid and comfort to the people around them. They became an impromptu part of the EMS system. A man who lost one son in Iraq and another to suicide helped stop the bleeding of a man whose leg was blown off. Runners, who only moments earlier finished the race, rushed to apply makeshift tourniquets to the injured, carried people toward first aid tents, or comforted the people around them.

How can bystanders get ready for a disaster like this? Learning first aid, CPR and risk awareness definitely can help prepare you to help others – friends, family members, and strangers. But you don’t always need formal training to save someone’s life or provide them with the care they desperately need at that moment. Sometimes you just need to be willing to help carry someone who is hurt to safety, provide comfort to someone who is frightened, or help someone find the medical care they need.

Prepared individuals are aware of potential risks, understand where they can turn for help, know what their personal responsibilities are, and are willing to help their neighbors and community members.

At the core of a resilient nation are individuals who know what they can do to protect themselves and are willing and able to do it. Health, safety, and security cannot be left to the professionals but should be recognized as everybody’s responsibility. We must shift our national culture to recognize the essential role of community first aid during an emergency. Community planners across the country must incorporate the bystander-as-responder into emergency management plans.

Success in preparing for and responding to any large event rests in the ability to harness the immense potential of the community. We saw this exhibited by those Boston heroes, formal first responders, and those who simply took action when faced with unimaginable tragedy and helped their fellow citizens in the moment of greatest need.

Simply put: bystanders didn’t stand by. They saved lives. We should learn from their bravery and plan on ways that we, as part of our community and our nation, can be better prepared to help out in the next disaster, so we truly have one mission, one team.

The information presented in this cover story has been a compilation of contributions from Wal-mart, UPS, Mormon Helping Hands, and the Catholic Relief Services.
The information presented in this cover story has been a compilation of contributions from Wal-mart, UPS, Mormon Helping Hands, and the Catholic Relief Services.

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