Saving lives … with logistics technology

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This technology will improve the speed of the distribution, helping us to keep the process as orderly as possible.” –Damaris Frick, manager of the Salvation Army’s camp in Port Au Prince, Haiti

A lot of folks look askance at all the information technology (IT) permeating this system – and often times for good reason. Many times, technology steps in and takes the place of human interaction, leading to all sorts of negative beliefs: that one carrier is just as good as another, it’s all about price, etc.

Then there are moments when the value of IT is displayed in crystal clear fashion – especially in terms of disaster recovery efforts.

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Take the Salvation Army’s ongoing relief efforts in Haiti, for example. It’s replacing handwritten paper index cards with high-tech barcode technology – donated by United Parcel Service – to ensure that more than 4,000 families at its refugee camp outside Port Au Price efficiently receive food, shelter and medical supplies.

What the Salvation Army is using is based on UPS’s Trackpad technology, which UPS customers use to track packages within campus environments as the packages move from the loading dock to distributed offices for delivery. Big Brown not only gave it to the Salvation Army’s camp in Haiti, it also adapted it specifically to handle disaster relief supply distribution

The technology allows Salvation Army staff members to confirm what goods each Haitian family within the camp receives by tracking the information embedded in a laminated card bearing unique barcodes tied to the number of family members, their needs, and their location in the makeshift camp that has sprung up in an adjacent soccer field outside the country’s capital city; ensuring that all these families receive the right supplies at the right time while reducing the potential for theft or fraud.

“At the moment we are struggling with paper cards which disintegrate in the pockets of the bearers. It currently takes a team of 40 people to sweep through the camp to accomplish a replacement of damaged cards,” said Damaris Frick, manager of the Salvation Army’s camp in Port Au Prince.

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“That problem will be completely eliminated with this system,” Frick noted – which includes 4,000 laminated cards, two handheld scanners and a laptop. “We will no longer need to manually input distribution data, which will also speed up and increase the accuracy of our reporting process to other NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and donors."

The system will also give the Salvation Army a way to track the families and their needs in the future, as they move from the temporary camp where they currently live to more permanent shelter, Frick added.

Ken Sternad, president of The UPS Foundation, said that the company’s logistics experts configured TrackPad system into a specialized “relief application” in less than a week.

UPS technology provider Cardinal Tracking helped out by providing the barcode cards plus donating labor and equipment for the project.

Beyond the immediate need to optimize food distribution, the Salvation Army said it plans to use the barcode cards and tracking technology to help with the distribution of hygiene kits and tarps to prepare for the upcoming rainy season – while also considering use of the system at four other relief sites in Haiti.

UPS’s Sternad noted that this is actually the second time Big Brown re-configured its Trackpad technology for disaster relief: following Hurricane Katrina, it got used to track displaced pets.

Just goes to show that the IT systems used in the freight industry can do a lot more than we think: in this case, it means helping families survive the devastation in Haiti. That’s something to be proud of.

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