In 2005, about five months after the Indian Ocean tsunami, I was in Aceh, in northern Indonesia, reporting for a story about that country. Aceh was very badly damaged in that event. What I saw in that case was a striking lack of expertise on the ground among the many international aid organizations that had poured staff into the region. Indeed, many projects failed, and in a few, highly-publicized cases, charities assigned people with good intentions, but no training, to tasks that really called for technicians.
Within a year of the event, the situation had become so bad that the local government was investigating the charities for offenses ranging from simple negligence, to outright graft. The lesson in that case was that wanting to help and being able to help were not only two very different things, but that confusing them could make things worse.
I bring the topic of professionalism up in this space because since the onset of the recent earthquake disaster in Japan, we’ve heard worries about what the chaos might do to the world's economy and, specifically, the electronic supply chain. That's a legitimate concern. But there's also a flip side to the issue. People who know how to run supply lines are enormously important in disaster sites, where clean water, food, and medical supplies must be urgently delivered to places where the usual supply systems are broken.
The people who read this site are in a position to help. Many of the readers here possess the technical skills that many in Aceh lacked six years ago. Getting ships re-routed past damaged ports, and getting things accounted for in a place where whole towns are in pieces, require specific know-how. With that in mind, it’s not a surprise that job boards not only for companies like DHL or FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX), but organizations like UNICEF, the Red Cross, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and various health care initiatives are all often in the market for logistics experts.
Along with doctors, heavy equipment operators, and clean water experts, logistics staff are always among the most useful people to have on the ground in the first months after an event like an earthquake or tsunami. Also, they don’t necessarily have to be in the disaster area itself; this avoids putting more strain on already collapsed local infrastructure.
Usually the last thing a disaster area needs is more people arriving, needing food and shelter. Working distantly, but along the humanitarian logistics supply chain, volunteers can provide assistance without creating another mouth to feed at the epicenter.
With that in mind, listed below are a few of the many organizations seeking volunteers to help with logistics in various public assistance programs. The skills represented by the community here are worth a lot in a place like Japan right now.