How UPS Became a Disaster Response and Recovery Leader Through Its Business Expertise

There is an increasing focus on the issue of long-term recovery following disasters and urgent humanitarian crises. This is a good thing. The lessons of Katrina and other major disasters inform us that much work still needs to be done to coordinate effective strategies to help communities recover and thrive after a major humanitarian crisis.

Yet one of the most effective strategies for ensuring the long-term recovery of a community following a disaster remains the investment in preparation—having the plans and tools in place to respond immediately and efficiently to get the recovery process started as quickly as possible.

Increasingly, corporations active in disaster response are interested in opportunities to become further engaged by providing skilled services and intellectual capital—in addition to dollars—and by fostering collaboration between the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Companies recognize that there are great opportunities to maximize efficiencies, reduce cost, speed relief efforts, and ultimately get communities on track faster toward long-term recovery.

In UPS’s case, this means helping disaster organizations up front with all aspects of the logistics surrounding a crisis. It includes better inventory management, commodity tracking, warehousing, and transportation—all of which can help ensure that supplies are positioned and resources are in place for efficient and rapid response to disasters.

One example is the work UPS is doing with the American Red Cross in the Gulf region of the United States. We have worked with the Red Cross to train UPS logisticians as first responders to disasters, and place them on Logistics Actions Teams (LATs) in key locations like Florida, New Orleans, and Texas. We are looking at additional opportunities in Alabama and Mississippi to form a ring of logistics capabilities around the Gulf.

UPS is also funding a pilot test with the Red Cross to introduce leading-edge commodity tracking technology in its work. This technology will help in the logistics around warehousing, inventory management, and prepositioning of supplies in the Southeast in advance of the hurricane season to ensure a rapid and effective response when disasters strike.

The same type of collaboration will be required for the more challenging task of developing effective models for longer term recovery. One promising effort is being undertaken by the St. Bernard Project (SBP) out of New Orleans.

The SBP is an award-winning nonprofit focused on rebuilding both homes and lives for vulnerable families, senior citizens, and physically challenged residents who are struggling to recover from the devastation and trauma caused by Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Gulf oil spill.

With its innovative, vertically integrated construction system, SBP serves as a model for disaster rebuilding and affordable housing that can be replicated in most any community.

SBP has served as a great example of collaboration between public and private enterprises and is now looking to take its model to other communities impacted by disasters, such as Joplin, Missouri.

UPS is putting its logistics expertise behind SBP and is also helping connect it to other organizations in the disaster response space that can complement its efforts and build out more effective recovery capabilities. For example, UPS has connected SBP with an innovative organization that has the potential to play an important role in disaster response—Toolbank USA.

ToolBank USA’s concept is to use a network of local “toolbanks” to steward a vast inventory of actual tools for use by other charities to advance their missions. Through quick and reliable access to large quantities of high-quality tools, each ToolBank transforms volunteerism in its area.

ToolBank is now working on a disaster protocol, in which it will reserve all or part of its inventory in a local area for use in disaster response efforts and integrate its work with other disaster relief nonprofits.

We believe that there is great potential to develop new solutions with increased collaboration among innovative organizations like SBP and ToolBank USA and the larger and more established disaster response organizations.

While every disaster is different, every disaster shares the same “life cycle”—preparedness, urgent response, and longer term recovery. Virtually any company can play a valuable role in at least one stage of this life cycle. When combined with collaborative efforts among the public and nonprofit sectors involved in disasters, great potential exists to make new breakthroughs in helping communities recover from disasters.


[Editor's note: Want to hear more about UPS's disaster work? Check out BCLC's latest video on the Role of Business in Disaster Response featuring UPS and Degenkolb. This article is part of The Role of Business in Disaster Response report.]