23 Jan Good360 Partners with UPS to Solve the Problems of Last Mile Distribution
In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, humanitarian aid workers trying to get critically needed supplies to survivors in the Bahamas faced a logistical nightmare of monumental proportions.
One of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean stalled over the Bahamas for two days, leaving roads, docks, airports and communication grids heavily damaged.
Getting relief supplies to the islands proved to be only the first challenge. The far greater obstacle came in trying to get cargo from ports and airports through to trusted NGOs that had the ability to send supplies directly to storm-battered communities — what disaster response experts call “last mile distribution.”
“Anywhere we could put a warehouse has been destroyed by floodwaters and may not be safe for storing supplies. Communications are down; electricity is down,” Christy Delafield, with the aid group Mercy Corps, told NPR just days after kaitthe hurricane struck.
It wasn’t just the lack of storage, phone lines or electricity. A big part of the challenge was finding anyone who could figure out a way to reliably transport supplies across the chain of islands to people most in need.
“There are a lot of us who have resources but can’t connect with a safe distributor,” said William T. Prather, executive producer of Prather Productions, in an interview with the Fort Meyers News-Press. “It’s way frustrating.”
Lastly, the hurricane survivors desperately needed relief aid — but the right kind of supplies didn’t always reach the right people. For example, many tons of food, water and other donations landed in Nassau, the nation’s capital, but that part of the Bahamas suffered relatively little damage. By comparison, nearly every structure in Marsh Harbour, the biggest town in the Abaco Islands, was destroyed.
“People call it good if the supplies land at the capital city, but that’s the beginning of the process,” said Andrew MacCalla, VP of Emergency Response at Direct Relief in a report published on ReliefWeb.
The enormous logistical challenges in the Bahamas has prompted Good360 to collaborate closely with one of our most important partners, the UPS Foundation, to come up with creative solutions for this disaster and similar ones in the future.
We’re looking to establish a model for last mile distribution when warehouse facilities are not readily available, airports and ports are damaged or clogged, roads are compromised, and case management is minimal. We’re developing strategies that would work for a Category 5 hurricane making landfall in the Bahamas, the Florida Panhandle, or southeast Texas.
For example, are there ways to build temporary warehouses quickly and cheaply in a disaster zone? Would it be more effective for survivors to be brought to relief centers where donations would be available than bringing the supplies directly to them? How can you help survivors take advantage of product donations when many don’t have as much as a bag or a suitcase to carry away goods, or a home to store them in? How can we get more visibility into actual needs on the ground when communication systems are compromised?
Meanwhile, there are still tons of donated products left in the Bahamas that need to be properly distributed to the neediest survivors months after the disaster. Working with UPS and nonprofit partners on the ground, we’re aiming to get these donations directly to the hardest-hit communities over the next several months. We also want to measure the impact of these donations once they have finally reached the right people.
With disasters on this scale, the problem is almost never a lack of relief supplies, thanks to the generosity of companies, NGOs and individuals with good intentions. It’s the oversupply of donations, especially unsolicited ones, and the inevitable challenges of last mile distribution that usually bedevil emergency responders in the disaster zone.
The shift that needs to happen is a more thoughtful approach to giving that is informed by on-the-ground assessments of actual need, across the entire life cycle of a disaster (not just in the immediate aftermath). Instead of inundating a disaster area with pallets and pallets of food and water for months, for example, the donations should also address longer-term needs such as housing and improved quality of life for impacted communities. We’ve been advocating for this more holistic approach to disaster recovery with our Resilient Response initiative.
Coming up with creative solutions for more resilient response in the Bahamas and elsewhere will help us and other organizations respond better to future disasters, ensuring that the right products get to the right people at the right time.
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Make a commitment with Good360 today to provide specific goods at the time when they are most needed — we will ensure your items have maximum impact. If you have goods to donate, contact Jim Alvey at email@example.com.