UPS, Home Depot provide disaster relief

When the Chilean government needed to get a drill from Berlin, Pa., to the San Jose mine where 33 miners are trapped, it turned to UPS.

The Sandy Springs logistics and delivery company also helped take supplies to Haiti after the January earthquake that killed thousands. It did the same in response to this summer's floods in Pakistan.

In addition to the simple philanthropy that that company and Atlanta's Home Depot engage in, they also affect disaster relief efforts globally, aiding relief organizations as they seek and transport goods.

After Hurricane Katrina, UPS loaned an executive to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to act as a logistics director. The program was so successful that FEMA intends to replicate the program with other corporations, inserting other executives into the agency for three months at a time.

Eduardo Martinez, director of philanthropy and corporate relations for the UPS Foundation, said the company's global network of trucks, planes and distribution centers allows it to play a large role in humanitarian work.

"We have the know-how," he said. "This is what we do for business."

UPS plans to announce a $1.5 million gift Thursday, including some in-kind support, to CARE, the Atlanta-based humanitarian organization. UPS has helped to improve CARE's supply chain management during emergencies.

Disaster relief organizations say that without the help of corporations such as Home Depot and UPS, it's unlikely they would be able to respond as quickly or as effectively.

When UNICEF received an urgent call from Haiti a week after the earthquake, the relief organization's first call was to UPS. UNICEF needed to prepare and ship child relief kits to Haiti within 48 hours. UPS emptied a New Jersey warehouse and spent a weekend assembling the kits and getting them ready to send.

"They had the expertise to guide us through it," said Rajesh Anandan, vice president for corporate and foundation partnerships for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. "This is what UPS does."

While UPS has been a UNICEF partner for a decade, it is just since the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Asia that UPS has created its own disaster response plan.  They effectively and efficiently respond in emergencies, Anandan said, in part because it is in the company's culture.

Chip Chappelle, director of humanitarian supply chain logistics at UPS, said that company is uniquely positioned to provide the services it does. In Chile, the company found the most efficient way to transport the drill and other equipment, using its logistics expertise to clear customs quickly and get the materials to the staging area.

Home Depot has also become involved in response to disasters beyond just raising money.

FEMA has partnered with Home Depot, putting its staff in stores to talk to customers about how best to rebuild their homes.

And after Hurricane Katrina, the American Red Cross went straight to Home Depot, assigning families particular amounts of money for repairs. The arrangement allowed the Red Cross to pay vendors directly, ensuing that donors' dollars were going to their intended purpose, said Paige Roberts, the director of fund-raising and public affairs for Red Cross in Mississippi.

"Home Depot was very conscious of the sensitivity to time," she said. "The experience of recovery would be a lot more effective if all corporations jumped into the mission in the way Home Depot did."

In emergencies, Home Depot also works to keep its stores open as long as possible both before and after a disaster so customers can get the supplies they need to prepare and recover.

Corky Martin, by day a product development merchant for Home Depot and -- on the side -- the company's merchandising liaison for disaster support, said the company is also heavily involved in education and awareness.

But he takes the most pride in Home Depot's response once a disaster occurs.

"When you look at Home Depot, we're the benchmark across industries as to how quickly we respond to disasters," he said. "We do it better than everybody. We have the scars to prove it."