Cleaning Up After Katrina
The hurricane that hit the U.S. Gulf Coast last month will be remembered for its strength, the vast geography it impacted, and the chaos it left in its wake. Hurricane Katrina exposed large gaps in our ability to react to an emergency, and as difficult as it was to see the suffering that results from any natural disaster, it was almost more frustrating to hear reports from those who tried to help and could not get the information they needed to do it.
Some of those people were from the beverage industry, and one who put a voice to those problems was Joe Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association. Nearly a week after the hurricane made landfall, Doss said his organization was still struggling to get donated water to affected areas.
“We and other industries who supply relief and recovery supplies are finding that federal and state agencies cannot give specific information as to where bottled water and items should be delivered, who to contact, etc.,” he said in a statement. “IBWA has raised this issue directly with an official at the Department of Homeland Security, who acknowledged that there are logistical problems and assured us that steps would be taken to correct this situation.”
Similar reports came from the pharmaceutical industry and its attempts to donate medicine. The bottled water association eventually took the issue into its own hands and used its network to gain and distribute information.
The solutions to the government’s problems with emergency relief will be debated for months to come, and part of improvements for the future should include ways to handle industry donations. Doss has said his organization is willing to take an active roll in the “development of solutions to better enable federal, state and local emergency response agencies act with greater efficiency and speed with regard to bottled water distribution and coordination in future relief operations.”
I also spoke with Diane Letson, director of food sourcing for America’s Second Harvest, about other ways companies can more effectively get their products to areas in need. Second Harvest works with food and beverage companies to distribute products to a network of more than 200 food banks and food-rescue organizations. It counts among its regular contributors Pepsi-Cola Co., Coca-Cola, Welch’s, Kraft Foods, Nestle USA, Ocean Spray, Cott Beverages USA, and many more.
Letson says the organization is able to pick up donations from any location in the country or help companies coordinate their own deliveries of product. Companies can donate product or transportation services through the organization, and Second Harvest can help determine which products are needed immediately and which ones will be needed down the road for continued support. Although it is a stand-alone entity, Second Harvest works with relief agencies such as FEMA, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army to provide supplies.
During the past several years, American corporations have donated billions of dollars and millions of pounds of food and beverages for disaster relief. Those donations should be made as easy as possible. Getting through a disaster is hard enough, contributing relief shouldn’t be. BI
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