UPS volunteers use logistics know-how to aid during times of crises

UPS employee Craig Arnold volunteers in Haiti for disaster relief. Source: UPS
UPS employee Craig Arnold volunteers in Haiti for disaster relief. Source: UPS

Credit: Source: UPS

Credit: Source: UPS

Craig Arnold works as a sales executive for UPS, based in Sandy Springs. But, a couple of years ago, he found himself in the Caribbean, helping to organize food distribution after Hurricane Irma barreled through the Virgin Islands.

He was still there when, days later, Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 5 storm, took aim at Puerto Rico. Arnold, a volunteer with the UPS Foundation, quickly pivoted, putting his logistics knowledge to work as he found a pilot willing to fly in needed supplies.

As the world’s largest package delivery company, UPS has years of experience in getting goods from point A to point B, and it has lent that expertise to a variety of relief efforts over the past 15 years. The company deploys employees like Arnold into disaster areas and embeds its executives with international relief organizations.

“The frequency and ferocity of disasters have only increased in the last number of years,” said UPS Foundation Director of Humanitarian Relief Joe Ruiz. That’s meant even more of a need for a rapid, efficient response to catastrophes. And not just storms.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s foundation is helping to find ways to get masks, hand sanitizer and food to people in need.

“What we’ve done with humanitarian relief enabled us to lean in immediately to COVID-19,” Ruiz said. UPS is distributing supplies to medical facilities and schools and helping to develop a system to deliver meals to students who previously relied on a school lunch program, he said.

The foundation also has experience helping to distribute vaccines in places like Uganda, through work with international organization Gavi.

In addition, the UPS Foundation has deployed the company’s executives to help with logistics for getting food to remote areas of the world via the U.N. World Food Programme.

It started with Katrina

UPS has been deploying skilled volunteers since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, which prompted the company to launch a program focused on helping humanitarian organizations improve their own logistics management.

“We want these organizations to be able to be more effective, so they can respond to two times or three times more people,” Ruiz said.

That could mean providing track-and trace technology or warehouse management systems, or training mechanics on how to maintain fleets of trucks. “Our goal is to help them become more effective and efficient,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said up to 73% of the cost of relief efforts is in logistics.

“It’s one of the most challenging things that humanitarian organizations can do. You can secure the money to get the supplies, but can you get the supplies to the last mile to the people that need them?” Ruiz said. “That’s the critical role we provide in this space.”

The difficulty of managing a disaster was on display in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, when pallets of bottled water were abandoned on the tarmac of a former naval base, and when an Atlanta entrepreneur who won a FEMA contract for more than 30 million emergency meals failed to deliver.

Disaster response isn’t easy, Ruiz said, especially with the various Customs regulations that can keep goods from getting into a country, he said.

“Just getting things to the seaport or just getting things to a runway is not enough,” Arnold said. “Every disaster is an unplanned supply chain ... that normally takes months and months to build out and test.”

Understanding flows

As a sales guy, Arnold may not seem the most obvious person to manage logistics during a disaster.

But, Arnold said, disaster response requires understanding how goods get moved, how money gets transferred and how information moves for tracking the goods. “You need to understand all these three flows. And, to be good at the sales job, you need to also understand those flows for customers,” he said.

Before he deployed on his first humanitarian relief mission in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, “I thought it would be about how fast you can unload,” he said. He later learned you also have to “be effective talking to literally a general or maybe a governor of the province, as well as talking to a truck driver and a UPS pilot.” That’s where sales experience also helps, he said.

It’s important that volunteers don’t usurp authority, Arnold said, which can impede coordination and lead to gaps in service.

“You really have to start with a position of humility and figure out who are the governing authorities in charge,” Arnold said. “You need to approach these situations with humility and not like the savior.”

“You see people in disaster response, though, get that very wrong. They come in with a cape.”

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