There’s a funny story about Abraham Lincoln.
After agreeing to pardon a woman’s son who had been sentenced to death for treason, Lincoln confessed that he pardoned the son reluctantly.
“Still, I wish,” he said, “that we could teach him a lesson.”
Lincoln’s quote comes to mind when I think about hurricane season, because each year we get taught a bit of a lesson any time a major tropical storm or hurricane like Barry, Erick and Flossie threatens to do major damage only to ultimately blow out to sea or fizzle out fairly quickly.
While such storms don’t wind up being as catastrophic as predicted, they do serve an important purpose if we’re paying attention, because they remind us that disasters can happen at any time and, on occasion, with very little warning. Just as significant, they allow all of us to conduct an honest reality check and ask some tough questions about whether we were truly as safe and prepared as we should have been. And – here’s the kicker – they offer the chance to make the necessary adjustments to our storm season readiness before a truly destructive storm hits.
Here at ALAN, these storms taught us that our network continues to be strong, effective and ready to help. (And thank heavens for that!) However, it also taught us that we can still do a better job of keeping you in the loop about how we operate, because even 14 years in, we still get a lot of questions about how we coordinate various post-disaster needs.
That’s why you’ll find Part 2 of our FAQ series below. It explains why no news or posted needs on our Micro-site is often a good thing, why you may not hear from us about every need, every time, and why we really, really hope you’ll consider making a pre-offer of your space, services or equipment before the next storm hits.
We hope you’ll find it helpful. More important, we hope it will inspire you to continue partnering with us as a donor, sponsor or value-in-kind partner.
On behalf of all of us at ALAN, here’s hoping you have a safe, storm-free August!
Richard Sharpe, ALAN Vice President, Process & Technology
What’s Going On Over There?
FAQs About How ALAN Meets Hurricane Season Needs
When we visited your Hurricane Micro-site, we didn’t see any current logistics needs listed. Does that mean ALAN didn’t receive any requests for this particular disaster?
ALAN has many ways that we work to provide humanitarian logistics support, including several that take place behind the scenes. As a result, depending on how severe a disaster is, we’re often able to fulfill many requests before they can be posted on our site.
So don’t confuse a lack of micro-site listings with an absence of activity. It just usually means that we were already successful in finding the solutions we needed.
IS ALAN ever disappointed not to receive a lot of requests to help with a specific disaster?
Not at all, because it usually means that the many humanitarian and government groups that we partner with feel like they have things under control. It also might mean that a disaster didn’t turn out to be as catastrophic as anticipated, and that’s always a good thing.
As long as people are safe and getting the help they need, we’re happy.
It’s also important to note that sometimes ALAN’s help is needed later rather than sooner. For example, we’re still providing logistics assistance for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence and Michael because clean-up and recovery efforts are still taking place in places like Puerto Rico, the Panhandle and the Carolinas. And we’ll continue to provide such assistance as long as it’s needed.
What, exactly, are the various ways that ALAN works to fulfill disaster relief requests?
You know that “Network” that you see at the end of our name? It’s a strong and active community that has committed itself to being part of our humanitarian efforts.
Each time we receive a request, that community (which includes many industry associations, businesses and individuals) is the first place we tap into.
Some of the ways we might do this include:
- directly reaching out to a specific business or carrier that might be a good match for that request
- asking select associations to send out an urgent message to their membership to see if someone can step up
- sending out a focused e-mail or other message to all of our key contacts to let them know what’s needed
- approaching various carriers, 3PLs and other industry members that have non-profit foundations
- posting active needs on the micro-site or via social media
- or some combination of these activities
How does ALAN decide which members of its network to reach out to for each request?
A lot of it is tied to the scope of a disaster and the types of needs we have. For example, a “smaller,” more geographically focused disaster like last year’s California fires might mean that we approach the logistics organizations within a certain region (like the West) because they’re in the best position to help in that area. By contrast, a massive disaster – such as the one-two punch that Hurricanes Florence and Michael produced last fall – might merit communicating with much larger portions (or even all) of our network.
Some of it is also based on our previous experience. Case in point: When a business has provided something like boxes to humanitarian groups in the past, the next time we receive a request for boxes, we might reach out to that business first.
In addition, some of it is driven by which companies or groups have offered to help. For instance, if you’re a forklift company that has said that it might be willing to lend non-profits a couple of pallet jacks, and we get a request for that kind of equipment, you’ll probably be one of the first places we’ll call. Ditto if you’re a company that has said it would be willing to supply some warehousing space in a place like Miami if we happen to get a request to stage equipment there.
That’s why we’re always urging people to fill out the online offer forms on our website. While these forms don’t actually commit anyone to providing anything, they do let us know that these companies are at least willing to entertain the idea of helping. And they allow us help humanitarian groups much sooner and with considerably less effort.
Wouldn’t it just be easier to regularly send out a general laundry list of needs to every contact on ALAN’s list – or to immediately post everything on the Micro-site?
For one thing, it increases the number of times that people will see needs that don’t pertain to them – and leads to the mistaken assumption that there’s no reason to pay attention to any of our calls, e-mails or messages.
For another, it’s usually not the most effective way to get people to say yes, at least not based on our experience.
In order to avoid waste, redundancy and compassion fatigue we try to keep the times when we approach our entire community to a minimum – and instead focus on making specific “asks” to specific groups or companies that we know are most likely to be able to help.
How does ALAN feel when a disaster that it officially activated for winds up being relatively minor?
We are always elated when something like a major hurricane loses strength or winds up not hitting an area at all.
And we never regret activating, because in our opinion there’s no such thing as being too careful – and we’d far rather that people be over-prepared than not prepared at all.
That said, each time an area successfully dodges one disaster bullet and doesn’t get hit as hard as expected, it does increase the risk that its residents won’t take future warnings about hurricanes and disasters seriously. They tend to think, “These storms are never as bad as they say they’re going to be,” or “I evacuated before and it turned out to be nothing, so I’m just going to stay put next time.”
All we can say about this mindset is this: Don’t buy into it. Each hurricane and disaster is unique, and just because you haven’t been impacted in a big way yet, there’s no guarantee that you’ll continue to be that fortunate moving forward. Always, always, always heed the warnings for your area – and don’t ever assume that these warnings are exaggerated. Your life and safety could depend on it.
P.S. Disappointed that you weren’t able to help ALAN with its most recent hurricane efforts? If so, why not consider making a donation to ALAN today? Your monetary contribution – large or small – will go a long way towards funding all of our disaster relief efforts and enable us to continue saving lives through logistics.