World Trade Center weighs starting a disaster clearinghouse
By Zachary S. Fagenson
Miami is already a gateway to the Americas for commercial cargo, but it seems getting disaster-relief supplies into the hands that need them most after a hurricane or earthquake doesn't always happen quite as smoothly as moving a shipment of airplane parts to Brazil.
That could be changing soon, though.
"The problem is always getting them to the right party and getting them there," said Eric Williams, an independent agent for logistics company LandStar Corp. "Consequently, millions and millions of dollars of goods, people's donated clothes, are abandoned.
"There are thousands of non-profits that try to jump in and they fail," he added.
To that end, the World Trade Center Miami is looking at establishing a group to serve as a central clearing house to connect non-profits, manufacturers, shippers, donors and the countless parties involved in disaster relief with the victims.
The major problem in disaster relief is that countless nonprofits and private companies donate supplies to disaster-stricken countries, but without the proper logistics infrastructure it's difficult to find someone in the receiving country who can get those supplies to where they're needed most.
"When the disaster strikes, there's so much confusion people don't know which way to go," Mr. Williams said. "Whether you can go by land, go into the port, who's going to receive it at the other end?"
In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, Mr. Williams said he "personally coordinated for millions and millions" of pounds of supplies to be shipped into Haiti. The World Trade Center, he added, helped coordinate Chilean airline LAN's donation of three 767s to move goods to the battered island nation.
To give those kinds of efforts continuity, the World Trade Center is looking at forming the Rapid Logistics Response Group, which would work to transfer commercial supply-chain efficiency into disaster relief.
"We would have available in Miami 24/7, 365 a program where people would be on call to help out when major crisis or turmoil occurred in different countries," said Charlotte Gallogly, president of the World Trade Center here.
The ultimate goal of such a group would be to develop a website similar to the travel websites Expedia or Orbitz, where travelers can find flights, hotels and vacation packages from countless operators.
A similar website under the aegis of the World Trade Center Miami would link together non-governmental organizations, logistics companies, donors and anyone involved in getting supplies to disaster victims.
"We've verified the need, we know what the need is, we're in the process of putting together a strategy that would hit the needs and we're now consulting with the private sector to say "what do you think of this idea?" Ms. Gallogly said.
She's sent a "discussion paper" to World Trade Center Miami members in the air and sea shipping business. If the organization decides to move forward with the effort, it's unlikely to happen before January.
"We're going to be asking for their input until mid-September. Then it'll go to my board of directors," Ms. Gallogly said. If the measure receives the board's approval, the agency will then look for funding for the effort.
Should such a group be formed, it could help solidify Miami's role as the cargo hub of the Americas.
"Our mission is to increase two-way trade, merchandise trade and to promote Miami as a trade and logistics center of the Americas," Ms. Gallogly said. "For both of these constructs it's very clear to me we need to have in somebody's office a notebook for every country, who are the major contacts and what happens" in the event of a disaster.
Some companies, such as logistics firm WTDC, have independently taken advantage of Miami's location in the region to pre-position hurricane supplies so they're ready and waiting for when a disaster strikes.
"In the past we're always available for disaster, but we started marketing ourselves as a hurricane logistics company open 24/7," said President and CEO Ralph Gazitua. So far this year, he said, the company has positioned in the Miami Free Zone more 400 containers of water, about 7,500 palates, and 30 containers of generators "primarily for Central America and the Caribbean."
And with Hurricane Earl already passing through the Caribbean and more storms brewing over the Atlantic Ocean, the move could pay off.
If the World Trade Center Miami were able to develop the rapid response group, it would allow private shipping companies, disaster relief agencies and governments to leverage each other's resources in a recovery effort.
"One reason you need a non-profit, neutral organization to do this is, if a commercial airline or maritime company attempts to do this they're limited to their own resources," Mr. Williams said. "In this case we reach out to whatever resource is needed and it would be under the World Trade Center."