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Shippers fast-forward disaster relief

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in HR Management,Human Resources

Problem: Disaster-relief agencies and the United Nations are flooded with donations to help the victims of natural disasters, but none has a quick way—an army, say—to deliver the supplies to where they belong.

Solution: The folks who brought you overnight shipping.

Example: Chris Weeks, an executive on loan from DHL, worked with the U.S. military in earthquake-ravaged Pakistan last fall to push about 6,000 “speedballs” out of helicopters onto remote landing strips in the mountains.

What’s a speedball? A red polypropylene bag about the size of a beanbag chair stuffed with shelter, food and water to keep seven people alive for 10 days. DHL has been using the bags for years to move loose cargo.

It’s just one example of how the global cargo industry is trying to transform the grindingly slow pace of disaster relief. The shippers’ militaristic level of organization impresses even the military.

Weeks responded to three major disasters last year, but the impetus behind bringing modern supply-chain methods to disaster relief came mostly from Lynn Fritz, a San Francisco cargo tycoon. Fritz sold his company to UPS in 2001, looked for a good cause, and started advocating better use of logistics in relief efforts.

Also that year, he helped found the Disaster Resource Network, a group of corporations that donate time and expertise. Then, he launched the nonprofit Fritz Institute, whose free software helps aid groups manage emergency response. The Red Cross pressed the software into service after the devastating South Asian tsunami of December 2004, and says it has gained fivefold in efficiency.

Lesson: Look across boundaries for ways to revolutionize your products or processes.

— Adapted from “In a Year of Disasters, Experts Bring Order to Chaos of Relief,” Glenn R. Simpson, The Wall Street Journal.

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