Thursday, December 20, 2012

ALAN & Superstorm Sandy Relief: Demand Signals & Disaster: Keeping a Pulse on What’s Needed Most

Demand signals are important in all types of commerce because they tell suppliers what is needed most, what to produce and when to produce it. When it comes to disaster response, the same dynamic occurs between relief organizations and the business community, to communicate what items are needed most and where. However, unlike in day-to-day commerce situations where suppliers and buyers transact business with one another regularly, in disaster situations the exchange is complicated by a number of factors. 

“One thing we hear a lot of in major disaster events, like Sandy in this case, is concern about the ‘loss of demand signals’,” explained Jock Menzies, President of The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN). Losing demand signals would mean a disruption in the supply chain of relief to the areas affected. This can happen simply because supply chains for relief come together on the fly – sometimes without prior association with one another. ALAN acts as a connecting organization that uses Aidmatrix’ SCM4Giving™ platform to help facilitate and manage this spontaneous collaboration: Relief organizations post their specific needs and the business community donates goods to match those needs.

“This online system [SCM4Giving] becomes a form of a ‘demand signal’ so the business community knows precisely what is needed, how much, and where. It also acts as a parking lot for things that might be used later in the recovery process so they are not shipped prematurely, which can use up capacity. We use our Aidmatrix portal as a place to organize,” said Mr. Menzies. “The aggregation of needs and the ability to see across the silos is a real issue in these events. Having the ability to go to one place is important.”

“Take for instance our response efforts for Sandy. We received a request from the Red Cross for a refrigerated trailer for use as a feeding operation in Staten Island. We matched the need with a donor along with a pallet jack.  The donor provided transportation to the location and three weeks later the return transportation. We helped Petsmart, the ASPCA and the Red Cross by securing a donated pallet jack for them and provided advice as they worked to deliver pet food for families evacuated from Sandy-stricken areas. We identified sources of high capacity pumps for a public sector organization working on de-watering areas.  This match included work with our partners at a private sector heavy equipment manufacturer and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC). Then there was a load of cleanup kits and flood buckets delivered, and the list goes on.”
These are just a few examples of how ALAN uses the Aidmatrix technology to bring these communities together on-demand during times of disaster. They embed the “needs list” right on their website so the public can view and make donation offers directly. Their portal is tied into the whole network of other Aidmatrix sites including the State Emergency Management Agencies’ portals, where the relief community is also posting needs.  Transportation providers who can help donate services to move the goods and multi-agency warehouses that can receive and distribute the goods are also linked together through this technology. Ultimately, these needs get aggregated and displayed through a multitude of sites including other partners like Microsoft’s Disaster Response.  Microsoft in turn displays the needs for the public along with “Notes from the Ground” stories to get the demand signals broadcasting loud and clear. It is the effort of teams across multiple disciplines, areas, and geographies that come together to answer the call when disaster strikes. Technology makes a real impact in keeping these signals strong and constant.

-Julie Ross, Aidmatrix Marketing Manager

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