A Shared Passion For Logistics Unlocks New Resource for Disaster Prep, Response, Recovery

December 4, 2012

After a natural disaster, there are immediate needs.  Water.  Food.  Blankets.  And tools.  LOTS of tools.

On a global scale, UPS provides the logistical feat that connects the dots between an online shopper and the appearance of the purchased item on the doorstep.   Scale that down to the community level, and you’ve got a ToolBank.  Each ToolBank provides thousands of shovels and rakes, hundreds of cordless drills and ladders, dozens of generators and miter saws, and nearly 170 other tool types ready for borrowing by charitable organizations. 

What happens when you combine ToolBank and UPS expertise?  The result is the efficient replication and operation of ToolBanks in cities beyond Atlanta, and a natural readiness to explore how to apply the ToolBank concept in support of disaster response and recovery.  ToolBank USA was launched in 2008 to explore these two initiatives.   

A volunteer once described the Atlanta ToolBank as “Home Depot on steroids”, awestruck by the thousands of shovels and rakes, hundreds of cordless drills and ladders, dozens of generators and miter saws, and nearly 170 other tool types ready for borrowing by charitable organizations.  In Atlanta, idle volunteers suffering a shortage of tools on a service project is a thing of the past.  Schools, churches, neighborhood organizations, and 501c3s alike seek out ToolBank tools as a force multiplier to their efforts, unlocking larger, more frequent, more impactful, and less costly days of service.  The Atlanta Community ToolBank was already a beloved community icon when I became program manager that in 2000, having already equipped nonprofits and their volunteers for nearly a decade.  Already this year, the Atlanta ToolBank has equipped more than 45,000 volunteers with tools and other project equipment, dramatically increasing the impact and value of their service. 

The profound impact of the Atlanta ToolBank, coupled with the highly mobile nature of Atlanta’s residents, gave rise to dialogs about exporting the ToolBank model to other cities.  Community advocates who had come to rely on the abundance of ‘ToolBank Blue’ tools were not about to tolerate a scarcity of tools in their new city!  Inquiries resulting from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita underscored the importance of tools in disaster recovery, adding real urgency to the replication idea.     

With generous help from The UPS Foundation, The Home Depot Foundation, and Stanley Black & Decker, we launched ToolBank USA in 2008 to export the ToolBank concept to new cities.  A team of indomitable UPSers quarterbacked the design of our tool tracking platform, and championed local ToolBank replication efforts.   ToolBanks now lending in Charlotte, Baltimore, and Cincinnati have inspired new ToolBanks in Houston and Portland OR, with efforts in Phoenix and Richmond VA close behind.  With UPS Vice President Information Services Nick Costides at the helm of the ToolBank USA Board of Directors, we look to our forward-thinking partners every day to explore new ways to develop and share this transformative community resource. 

Our success in ToolBank replication has emboldened us to return to the concept of lending tools in the disaster arena.   We’ve seen how the ToolBank can elevate an entire city; why couldn’t a mobile ToolBank do the same for nonprofits responding to a disaster?  An assessment by Booz Allen Hamilton in early 2012, underwritten by UPS, indicated very strong interest among disaster experts in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.  We also resolved that this innovation was solidly within the ToolBank USA mission.  The projected impact should sound familiar:  increased volunteer engagement, increased volunteer labor value, and less costly deployments - not to mention a shortened recovery timeframe.  

We are now shopping for our very own car hauling trailer into which we will install racking and an office, and then fill every remaining cubic inch with tools.  In keeping true to inspirational form, The UPS Foundation has committed $100,000 to the project as well as transport service for ToolBank USA’s mobile response unit.  Stanley Black & Decker is generously providing the mobile ToolBank’s initial inventory and replenishment.  Combined, these gifts provide over a third of the capital needed to launch, and the search for additional investors continues. 

ToolBank Disaster Services is set to transform how Americans respond to disasters, in much the same way ‘fixed’ ToolBanks are changing volunteerism.  These two initiatives advance in parallel, each amplifying the impact of the other during – and between – times of crisis.  We are eternally grateful for partners like UPS, whose associates are always rolling up their sleeves to engage in the work required to achieve real innovation.