Relief and Logistics in Puerto Rico

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, residents find themselves victim to another terror. A shortage of medical supplies, equipment, and power can turn ordinarily benign illnesses into life-threatening conditions in more remote areas.

Who’s on the frontline to combat this crisis? Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been simultaneously removing ton after ton of debris and dealing with a lack of both power and communications as they struggle to deliver water, food, and tarps to residents.

While receiving relief items on the island has proved manageable, aid workers continually face the problematic issue of delivering these things to port, warehousing them, and trucking them to the people. The name of the game is now logistics. How do you get hundreds of thousands of supplies to the tens of thousands of homes in need? How do you execute in a way to maximize both the number of people you help and the supplies themselves?

While some of the prominent humanitarian organizations arrange their own logistics, they typically must buy those services. After large-scale disasters like Hurricane Maria, even well-organized groups must get creative in dealing with the scope of the problem. Efficiency is vital; delivery logistics consume 60 to 80 cents of every aid dollar contributed, aid groups say.

The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) helps handle this issue at little or no cost to aid organizations. Born out of Hurricane Katrina, ALAN is a nonprofit network of transportation, warehousing, cold storage, and distribution trade organizations that ease the flow of aid to disaster sites. elief organizations post urgent needs on the ALAN website to find other agencies to assist in fighting the problem.

“Logistics is the most complicated part of disaster response,” says Angela Garcia, Deputy Director of Global Links, a medical relief and development organization. “We need to get the right things to the right place at the right time, so we don’t create a disaster after a disaster. ALAN understands the importance of the details, staging, timing, and having both ends covered — where is it leaving from, where is it going.”

Ms. Fulton helped connect Worldwide Tech Services, a technical support provider that maintains and repairs satellite communications for Hughes Network Systems, with nonprofit aid groups to correct downed communications networks at the airport, weather service, and elsewhere in San Juan.

“People think about logistics as trucks or boxes or whatever. However, in a disaster, logistics saves lives,” Ms. Fulton says. “You can’t do anything without it.”

Source: New York TImes, ALAN Aid, Global Links, WWTS