John Vera, Health and Safety Manager for UPS, pictured here during his deployment during the Haiti earthquake early this year. Copyright: WFP/Jonathan Thompson
Three major commercial logistics companies, UPS, TNT and Agility, created the Logistics Emergency Teams (LETs) unit, a cross-company partnership to support humanitarian relief efforts during natural disasters. The LETs initiative is the first multi-company commitment to the humanitarian sector. And it’s working. Hear it from the same LET members deployed in Haiti in January and who presented at the recent “Logistics Emergency Team (LET) training.”
The Logistics Emergency Teams are groups of experienced logistics personnel (such as warehousing, fleet, air and reports officers) ready to be deployed to an emergency within a timeframe of 48 hrs after WFP’s request made on behalf of the Logistics Cluster, for which WFP is the lead agency. The Cluster coordinates the logistical response of the humanitarian community at times of disaster.
A ‘Logistics Emergency Team (LET) training’ takes place yearly. The ‘LET training’ aims at preparing the pool of these companies’ logistics personnel on the standby roster for potential deployment to an emergency environment. The latest one was held in Miami recently. Together with facilitators and speakers Matteo Perrone of the Global Logistics Cluster and Hetty vanDoorn of the WFP Logistics Development Unit, LET members that have already been deployed to different emergency operations contributed to the training, including the members from our previous story; Karim El Hamraui, John Vera and Bill Torres.
LET recruitment is done internally and staff voluntary sign on for a two year commitment. Chosen personnel read through LET booklets and guidelines and build an understanding of what is operationally expected of them. What novices do not expect is the sudden upturn their lives will face once on the ground. That’s where Karim, John and Bill stepped in.
Karim signed onto LET in September 2009, and within four month he was on the ground in Haiti. John and Bill signed on in early 2008 and were first deployed in the 2008 Haiti hurricane emergency. We had the chance to talk to the guys about their experience as part of the LET team from signing on to deployment to training and what it has all meant to them.
One of the first things that strikes you about talking to the team is their commitment to the cause and just how seriously they take the responsibility that is bestowed upon them. Matteo, a hard core loggie, will tell you that the first weeks of an emergency are his job. When he gets a call that he is going to be deployed in 48 hours, it is par for the course. For Karim, John and Bill, however, it is not. And yet, when the call came for them, they packed their bags, said goodbye to their loved ones with whom they had spoken at length about what it means to be on the roster, left their daily workload behind, took care of visas and vaccinations and headed to where they were needed most.
Arriving in country, the guys were ready to work and put their skills where they were needed most. Good thing because Karim thought he was going to be an air cargo tracker. Instead, he found himself as a fleet manager in Santo Domingo. Indeed, one of the main criteria for deployment is flexibility. Having worked with the team in Haiti in fact, Matteo could not say enough about what a committed and flexible team it was, doing whatever was needed to get the job done. That included working 7 days a week, 17 hour a day, getting out into the field to see just exactly what the situation was like. As Karim put it ‘I needed to see exactly what was going on in order to put myself in there and do the right job.’ A resounding theme throughout our interviews was just how proud and humbled these men are about their contribution to the team, one, they say, worked truly as a team.
After four weeks, “that felt like four months”, their stays came to an end in an emotional turmoil: wanting to go back home to their family and still wanting to remain and keep on helping to ease the Haitians’ suffering. Even on the last day, ready to fly out, they were still working.
All enriched the LET training with their tales, anecdotes and experiences. There were lots of practical examples and material from the training. They focused their presentation on “what we had to do”, the operational tasks, while the novice participants where asking “how it felt”. And so they tipped them off on the humanitarian substandard emergency reality as opposed to the commercial upscale routine operations: “Physically very challenging, but remember why you are there: don’t lose focus”, “Don’t panic”, “Listen and ask lots of questions”, “Work with people not concepts”, “Understand cultural differences”.
For now, Karim has another year left on the roster and hopes to be deployed again. John and Bill are passing the torch on to their successors and with a deep sense of pride and gratitude for having been part of the LET and even more so having been deployed and able to utilise their skills and follow through on their commitment.
From WFP Logistics, we greatly appreciate the commercial competitors coming together for the greater good and we look forward to this continued synergy of what proves to be an important added value to our work. As the Director of WFP Logistics, Martin Ohlsen publicly noted, “The LETs are an important component in our overall response strategy and their generous contribution of logistics assets and personnel has significantly boosted the speed and effectiveness of our response.”