Tuesday, 31 January 2012

What aid & development agencies can learn from elite rugby.

No one wants to do a bad job. I honestly, honestly believe this, that isn't to say from time to time that people don't from time to time do things to make others look bad or don't in frustration or boredom sabotage things just for some interest. At the core of our beings though I believe we all want to do a good job and be recognised for it. Nowhere is this more true than in aid work, only the mildly insane would put themselves through cold showers, water shortages, bouts of malaria, poor diet and random sleep depravation to ensure that the did an at best mediocre job. We fixate on excellence, best outcomes, deliverables our language is of targets and goals. Coming back to Haiti I have flown back in to the age old dripping argument about who should have done what, what money hasn't been spent and what is wrong with aid today. After 9 years of this and a further 6 watching it from the safety of The Royal Air Force I can honestly say I am tired of hearing it. I understand the arguments for accountability and greater transparency but playing elite level rugby has taught me something: the team doesn't get better through you identifying other people's faults. At the end of every rugby match the statistician sits down and collates the tackle count, the yards gained, the handling errors and every other possible metric ...... Whilst I was at London Scottish they even needed a metric for time spent with my hands down my shorts rearranging my sports support..... And at the next training session the coach sat you down and went through your stats with you. The emphasis was on improving your own game, we called the adjustments the one percenters, the one percent that makes a game changing difference - everyone can do the 99% but that extra one was the aim. You see elite rugby has realised that to improve team performance you have to concentrate on 15 personal performances. Players who criticise other players are usually hiding their own weakness, as all 15 players reach their peak the team performance gels and the game improves. I think this translates very neatly to aid work, we are a team driving towards excellent performance in serving communities. Our responsibility is to ensure we are achieving excellence in our role, sure we can support others in their roles but our aim shouldn't be to conform them to our standards but rather to support them in their drive to the highest standards they can achieve. I have played with better and worse rugby players over the years, I have gone running with players trying to get back to full fitness, stood out in the rain to receive penalty field goal attempts and sat with players in a quiet corner of the club bar to offer feed back when it was asked for. Strangely this is what I feel like I am doing now on an institutional level, working with teams looking to improve their 'A' game. A team that argues on the pitch is doomed to failure, systems will fracture, relationships will break down and the result will be poor performance. We as the aid & development community could do well to learn this lesson. Let's concentrate on brining our 'A' game and improving that, once we are in that position of excellence people will naturally gravitate towards us to find out how we do so well. For those of you who are interested I spent 4.5 minutes of an 80 minute game (over 5%) with my hands down my shorts, the coach's solution was to wear Lycra cycling shorts which I still do to this day. I mention it not for hilarity, although it still makes me laugh, but because often the route to those one percenters is not in our core business but in some idiosyncrasy that is completely unrelated. Once we solved the hands down shorts equation my handling errors diminished too. The Logistics Project is committed to its 'A' Game but will always have time to go running with you, stand out in the rain to perfect your kicking or sit for some constructive feedback should you need it.

Friday, 27 January 2012

27th January Haiti

It's 0535 and I am awake, sat out on a balcony of the hostel at which I am staying. A combination of time differences and an icy blast from the shower mean I am wide awake. Just outside the gate I hear voices; men going to work joking with the security guards. Every now and then their conversations are interrupted bythe hum of a UN turbo diesel. Cocks crow, and dogs bark as dawn struggles to break through. Already I can see the vaguest hint at a rosy glow across the valley as the sun hides itself just beyond the horizon. All is peaceful. The peace in Haiti has struck me this time. I was here in both 2010 and 2011 and there was always angst. There was an attritional, grinding angst that was energy sapping; every traffic jam was an opportunity for aggression and hatred to spill out, yet somehow now we feel closer to that Caribbean caricature of easiness. I say this against a back drop of a former colleague, Big Dave, having been shot in the stomach in a bank robbery on the day I arrived. Big Dave had committed two years of his life to helping Haiti and whilst I only met him once face to face in 2010 he was often at the other end of the phone helping out, the way logisticians do.... The trade in favours among not for profit loggies is a strong market in any economic climate. The last I have heard is that Dave ran 2 blocks to the hospital he has served these last 2 years and was operated on successfully and is to be moved to the US for further care. My thoughts and prayers stay with him and his wife. I can't however become negative about Haiti. So much of the media has focused on what is not being done here: money not being spent, rubble not being moved, jobs not being created but it is a look at the negative half of the equation. Yesterday on the drive to Mirbalais I saw comparatively little rubble compared to my visit in 2011, every now and again an empty plot or a partially demolished house would tell you of the calamity that befell Port au Prince in January 2010. I am not saying there isn't huge work to be done, I am saying huge work is being done. As I sit here now the rosy glow has broken over the hilltops across the plain on which Port au Prince sits. The barking dogs are now accompanied by a church bell. The sun is rising on Haiti not just today but in general. Some say it is exhaustion and two years of death and pestilence that have brought this new peace to Haiti. That makes no sense to me, my experience of wars and civil strife has taught me that such things rarely tire. I get the feeling hope has broken out, maybe be cause Michel Martelly, arguably the people's candidate, got into power they feel they have a voice. Hope is more powerful than the dollar when it comes to reconstruction. I saw that in Delmas 32; about a mile from where I sit. Back in 2010 JPHRO made a commitment to clear a neighbourhood. I remember walking through 20ft piles of rubble with Phil, the JPHRO engineer, and realising the only thing you could do was start, bucket load by bucket load. It developed into one of the most successful program's I have seen, most notably because the community leapt into action to help and improve the JPHRO system. Hope sprang forth and people started to clear their own plots. I understand the need to address corruption, complacency and mismanagement but I think to focus on the negative dishonours those like Big Dave who pour their lives out here and elsewhere in the world. I want to focus on hope, the JPHRO rubble clearing, PIH's Mirbalais hospital and countless other projects that are making a difference but most notably the peace that Haitian hope is brining.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Logistics Project's Inner Geek Is Out

Well as you will know I am out in Haiti right now so I thought I would prepare some blogs to fill the time in case I get no internet connectivity (forward thinking is the logistician’s friend) and to be honest no one wants to hear the jetlagged ramblings of a logistician. So what to blog about…. What better than techy stuff, you know time delayed blogs, apps and kit.  I thought I would put together my top techy items that make my work life more efficient.  In no particular order…..

The iPad 2
We only recently took delivery of the iPad 2 and it has surpassed our expectations.  We bought it because it was light weight and could be easily used without a desk or lap.  Some say it is the apps that make the machine and we will look at some great apps in the next few items but we wanted to note the Ipad is a thing of beauty, with a great camera and some great functionality we haven’t tried other tablets but when the iPad is this good were are unlikely to be trying them anytime soon.

I am someone what sold on apple as a brand so have a self confessed bias I am sure these app are probably android etc compatible....

We must remember to use Skitch for professional purposes….. We must remember to use Skitch for professional purposes…… We must remember to use Skitch for professional purposes…..

Take a picture of your colleague with the iPad and get to draw a pink moustache and wild curly hair on them…..Doh!  In all seriousness this is a great app for working cross culturally in logistics, no matter how fluent my French gets there are a few technical words that I just can’t recall.  A picture paints a thousand words, snap away in the warehouse with the iPad and then draw on circles to highlight points or arrows o show where to move things.  I love Skitch more for this than the countless friends I have drawn facial hair on.
The Bosch PLR50 laser range finder

It's got a laser!!!!!!

OK we are getting in touch with our deep inner geek here.  Maybe it is because I grew up with Star Wars and Buck Rogers that I like lasers but this little piece of kit means no more scrambling up rickety shelving to try and get a measurement, or trying to pull the tape measure taught so the distance is accurate and no more shredded and dirty trousers from scrambling around on the floor to get find how far that alcove goes back behind the shelving (I might miss this last bit).  One little ping of the laser and you have an accurate measure, two little ping and you get an area, three little pings and you have volume.  It even understands Pythagoras and can work out the missing side of a right angled triangle.  It isn’t pretty like and iPad but we love it all the same.


Yes its microsoft but I love it

I have already said a picture paints a thousand words….well sometimes that monologue gets cut short because you can’t take photos that capture a whole room….or can you.  Extend your pictographic monologue with Photosynth a great little app which allows you to build a panoramic picture from smaller photos taken in sequence.  Couple this with Skitch and you can draw a whole process flow onto a picture and turn it into a pdf…..BOOM!!!! (as some of my younger cooler  friends say)

As of yet this is not a standalone tool so it does need some connectivity but when trying to map process you just can’t beat LucidChart.  I have used this on both the ipad and on a PC through Google Chrome and it is fast, simple and great looking.  As a loggie process charts, org charts and well…….. just charts excite me.  Quite frankly they make my life easier and they hold people accountable to the process and we are back to a picture painting a thousand words.  I guess this all comes from working in a cross cultural context; pictures communicate well.

So that is my top 5 in no particular order, other notable mentions
SKYPE    - Needs no introduction and keeps our bills down as we communicate globally.
Whiteboard HD for the iPad – All the benefits of a whiteboard that can be beamed to your screen ad then saved for posterity.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Tooth Brushing With 2 year Olds and The Logisticians Triangle

It has been a little while since I have blogged about the adventures of Joel, my two year old son; so I thought I would rectify this situation.  Joel and I are best buddies and can quite often find joy in doing the most mundane tasks if they are done together.    Yesterday we cleared the garden of overgrown bushes and just hanging out was fun….so much fun Joel would have worked on into the darkness.  One task that doesn’t always fall into this category is tooth brushing.
Known as ee-ee-ee ah-ah-ah because of the sounds, it is absolutely imperative to make when brushing incisors and molars respectively Joel will happily dash to the bathroom eager to have another instalment of minty freshness.  All is going well so far but there are a lot oif variables that can throw your process:
Is the toilet seat up? – a raised toilet seat is inherently more interesting than one that is down and requires investigation….the more touching the better.
Is the shower curtain closed? – anything could be hiding behind there…..we best check it out
Is Keshie making a sound elsewhere? – We have to stop and cup our hands round one ear to check to see if she is crying.
Are there any unidentifiable sounds? – these may require anything from a cupped hand around the ear to a full on half clothed expedition downstairs.
Has Daddy left toys in the bath? – a reasonably new development Joel has climbed into the bath and filled it with water to play with those disaggregated toy stocks.

I have to admit if such things come into play tooth brushing can become stressful because my logisticians triangle is locked out.  What kind of mysticism is this you may ask…..perhaps some ancient Egyptian art?  Whilst I would like to come across as mystical and interesting it actually owes more to secondary education maths than mystics of Nuba.  The logistician’s triangle gives him a rough and ready idea of what is achievable…….. I don’t think I am betraying any magic circle like secrets here…… The three sides are as follows: Time ……Resource ……. Objective’s Perameters.   Where juts one of these is infinite anything is possible but the reality is juggling 3 limited commodities to make things happen.
Time – So Joel and I have around 3 – 5 minutes to brush our teeth before I have to get myself ready to leave the house for work.  It is unclear how Joel relates to the time commodity.
Resource – I only have two hands and a pair of eyes and I can only be in one place at one time, and I think it is well established wisdom that it takes more than two hands to grapple a wriggling two year old and only mothers get eyes in the back of their heads.
Objectives – Get  Joel in and out of Bath room with brushed teeth and minimal dampness to clothing.

There are days when this works smoothly and I leave for work unruffled and Joel arrives downstairs, dry, shiny and minty fresh.  On other days we can both leave the bathroom wet through, frustrated and something less than ready to face the day, usually because one of the variables (which I should have mentioned does include toilet roll to be pulled out into a large pile) has come into to play. 

"our definitions of passable are different my friend"

Well isn’t that just the logistician’s life.? Random things get fired into your perfectly functioning system just to make the job “interesting”; such as finding no one mentioed the road slid of the side off the mountain.    If you find yourself getting tied up in logistical toilet roll use your logistician’s triangle to assess the problem.  Scale one of its faces to stand on top and survey the problem a new.  If just one of your commodities is changeable in a slightly longer timescale, a slightly redefined target or another couple of bodies at the work face you will quickly see the stress ebb away.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Working with Partners In Health (HAITI)

Partners In Health
One of the great things about working with The Logistics Project is the variety of amazing organisations that you get to work with.  We love people and institutions of vision and passion and look to be a support in making it happen.  This week I am excited to say I am going to be working with Partners In Health, Haiti – known locally as Zanmi Lasante (Haitian Kreyol for Partners In Health).  ZL and PIH are old friends from 2010 when I worked alongside them as Cholera swept across vast swathes of the Haitian country side and threatened the IDP population in the post-earthquake IDP camps.  PIH have long been established in Haiti and have grown from a small community clinic in Cange to a huge pool of indigenous Haitian talent working alongside the Ministry of Health, partnering in health (and other things education, agriculture and more) in over 14 sites across Haiti.

This growth has taken place over the last 25 years and represents a huge logistical commitment.  As with many organisations the logistical systems have been evolutionary and are due for review as PIH seeks to further develop patient access to vital drugs and services. The Logistics Project is providing short term expert help to the design team of a new central warehouse; capable not only of handling the day to day materiel of Zanmi Lasante but also the surge capacity that natural disasters bring. We are offering support to PIH and Zanmi Lasante’s amazing logistics team in building a logistics system to support fair and equitable access to healthcare for all in Haiti, and that is a worthwhile job.

For me personally it is great to get back and meet up with Jon, Marcel and Chris; a talented and committed team.  Whilst I am a “strange” Brit who carries a flask of tea with him in Caribbean heat we had a great working relationship that I hope we slip back into.  It is a great feeling working with people who are really good at what they do and yet aren’t conceited about it and push to improve all areas of expertise.  PIH are just that, forward thinking about all the areas of their work they are keen to develop capacity across the board.  An exciting project within my time with PIH will be to build new levels of logistics competency in their support staff.  One of the principal passions of The Logistics Project is to do ourselves out of business, to identify, educate, train and envision logistics staffs to carry on the proud tradition of what The Royal Air Force called “blanket stacking” (a general term for the supply trade).  Educate, Empower, Equip, Encourage as my old mate Donny Paterson used to say…I think I might be missing an E there, I am sure there were 5.....

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Limousines, Prom Night and The Logistics Project

I ought to point out at this juncture that my only experience of prom night is teen flicks from my youth.  So this blog pretty much has Michael J Fox as Teenwolf as it's cultural reference point....apologies to all North Americans who are not hair covered lupine invaders of the night but Hollywood has given me a picture of the prom that is all spnagles and big cars.  Here in the UK we have the slightly less grandly named "School leavers disco" which is a painful affair of boys wistfully looking at girls and girls rolling their eyes at our pain.  The prom limo however is the perfect vehicle  (I know it is a terrible pun) for explaining why you might want to engage a consultant.

Your son/daughter looks amazing and you are feeling slightly watery around the eye area as your realise that the little of bundle of love giggle and flatulence you held not so long ago is growing into a fine young adult.  The days of little Jonny are over!  It is prom night and here everything changes.  They glide across the room dressed for the night of their lives, open the fron t door and there it is the white limo they have all clubbed together for (with your hard earned cash) to make the evening complete.  You don’t begrudge them a moment of it, you prize them value them and realize that it is important to give them the best start to the night.

It is a fact; clambering out of the back of a pick-up with the faint smell of fertiliser and a few grease spots on your tuxedo or ball gown is not what you signed up for, nor is getting out of the family saloon car covered in dog hair smelling of good old Fido; even trying to extricate yourself from the back seat of your neat new compact Nissan or VW Beetle on prom night is not a glamorous affair if you are swathed in taffeta or wearing the miniest of mini dresses.   So people hire limousines, smooth sleek beauties that deliver us un-crumpled, un-soiled and smelling of Rihanna Reb'l Fleur (yeah I am down with the cool kids!!).
We do not however buy limousine to take our cherished and flawless young adults to the prom, becuase the aftermath is a car that is way overspecified for your daily needs.  You cannot take a quick trip to the local grocery store to pick up a carton of milk and expect to park quickly.  It looks strange to people that you run around dressed in threadbare clothes because you are paying off a Lincoln Town Car Limo, which you have neatly parked across the front of you and your neighbours’ properties.  People start to make greater demands on you to transport all their children to soccer, because…….well you have a limo…… they’ll all fit …..right?  Your kids no longer want to get out of the car to go to anything becuase the limo is the main attraction.   You have to get used to the flash photography and intense interest that having a limo makes.....Rihanna starts calling up to see if you are free on Friday..... Am I overstaing my point?
So we hire a limo.  I think we hire them because they add something to the event. They aren’t the event themselves but they transport us there in comfort and style and make getting to the event a painless and enjoyable exercise.  The Logistics Project is a limousine; we pick you up from where you are and seamlessly deliver you to where you want to be; doing away with the faint whiff of grievances brought about by change or the grease spots of bad habits brought through the system.  If people start bringing up their “spiked punch” of bad feeling then we get to carry it away and not leave it in your family saloon.  We are a specialist vehicle that you wouldn’t want to park in the logistics manager “drive” of your institution’s “suburban house”, but when ferrying your project from A to B we can help to make the transition not just painless but actually an integral part of the event itself.  We bring specialist skills and know how garnered of many years and countless a small issue has arisen moments to your situation whether it be starting up, expanding, contracting, rebuilding or simply wanting to do better with your supporters money.

In the office this brought us to thinking about what kind of limo we would be.......

Ok maybe we are a little vain........


Tuesday, 17 January 2012

No animals were harmed in the transporting of these shelves.

I made a commitment in The Logistics of Transporting Children that I would post pictures of a certain event that happened in El Fasher Sudan. I should say at this point, never hire a logistics professional who has an incident free track record….they are all yet ahead of them. Over the years I have encountered a few amusing and bemusing moments and today’s moment is from my time in Darfur.

Fasher240205 015 by The Logistics Project
"culturally appropriate planning?"
The agencies concerned will remain nameless and my accomplice will be codenamed PAWS…(you know who you are). Paws was dismantling one of her store houses and as any keen loggie I was happy to help her relocate stock and pick up (scrounge) anything useful for my own project. My agency was rapidly expanding and piles of boxes are not how I like to do things.

“No problem” says Paws as she rolls another cigarette “I have some short span shelving you can have.” So a deal is done where we provide transport assist in reallocating stock near to expiry because, frankly, we were good loggies and that is excellent batch control, we would use up stock in our nutrition programme and pay it back at a later date should it be needed. So we duly did the donor specific paperwork; Paws and I thought we were the best loggies in the whole of Africa.

Enter, Abdul Jerez, my colleague and driver. I explain to Al Jerez (the Bell), as he was affectionately known that we need to move some short span shelving. We’ll need spanners and people and a flat bed truck. Al Jerez informs me that he doesn’t know of any available spanners of the right calibre in the whole of El Fasher but that he has a plan…….

Paws and I retire to the shade of an office for a sweet black tea with so much sugar in it, it is almost treacle and wait until Al Jerez returns with his solution. We wait a fair while and become conscious that we are nearing the government curfew. Paws puffs confidently at the next cigarette and we hear the screech of the steel on steel of the gate as Al Jerez returns. What greeted us was a little unexpected. A tired looking horse, with a tired looking owner and a tired looking cart…….

At this point I decided that maybe I was superfluous to this “culturally appropriate plan”. Paws was giggling uncontrollably – and she wasn’t one to generally giggle – and I knew that with curfew approaching I had no option but to let Al Jerez execute his plan and hope the highways police didn’t stop him.

So what did I learn…….always get an outline brief of the plan before you release someone to pursue it their creativity may be far greater than your own.

Friday, 13 January 2012

I have lost my blogging Mojo and the logistics of my underwear draw.

I am British so I don’t want to get all Austin Powers on you but I have lost my blogging  Mojo a little this week.  It has been an eventful week; it was the second anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. I still have plenty of friends out there working on the reconstruction and have lost some friends recently to violence and cholera.  We are also gearing up to back to Haiti on a short trip to shine The Logistics Project’s light on a few logistical dark corners, so we are prepping and packing and will blog more on that nearer the time.

It has been a busy week in the office to and I have to remember that there is the whole business of doing the back office work that directors have to attend to, visits to the accountant, insurers, contact and plain old paperwork.  We took delivery of an iPAd and believe it will improve our ability to give timely and effective feedback and are working with some very cool apps.  In more exciting news we have had the mock ups of our new website back from Ewan at Wangbar and these look very cool so keep an eye on our website as it will be renewed very soon....spoiler below

A sneaky peak at the new website

Whilst looking for the old blogging mojo I found myself awake at 0430 thinking about my underwear draw.  It is the top draw of the dresser near our bed and its contents tell a sorry tale of failure to observe stock re-order level systems.  I got up to make a camomile tea to help with the sleep but couldn’t help feeling that this was another logistical dilemma faced in the Lamb household.  I would need to get to grips with it, as I sat wearily in the dim light of our living room it came to me – this was all about minimum and maximum stockholding levels.

When I was a single man I had a fail-safe system for securing a steady supply of underwear.  I had what I termed “favourite underwear” and “emergency underwear”.  Favourite underwear was comfortable, functional and started life  as presentable.  Emergency underwear consisted of unsightly or uncomfortable items such as  tighty whiteys, Y fronts and Christmas theme shorts that had seams in all the wrong places.  The reorder marker for underwear usually came in the form of a slight draft as the shorts wore through in all the wrong places.  At this point favourite underwear would be retired and emergency underwear implemented until a resupply could be effected.

Just say no.....
What I found was that this system was not compatible with the married life system and underwear with more than the standard 2 holes for the leg and one for the waist count were being "prematurely" retired.  The system I was using had a very low re-order level and the uncomfortable seams of the Christmas shorts and the social stigma of tighty whiteys forced a re-order event.  Married life had reset the system:  all novelty and unsightly underwear had gone and thus the trigger for reorder had disappeared.
Things I could have taken from my career to prevent this shortfall of undies are as follows:

-          Correctly assess your maximum and minimum re-order levels, take into consideration seasonal changes.  Does the impending wet season mean you need a greater buffer stock.
-          Choose an appropriate trigger, the simple irritation of low stock may not always be the most appropriate re-order marker.  Sometimes an algorithm of stock over consumption can be a more effective measure.
-          Regularly review your operational setting, changes in output, personnel or supplier can lead to a need to review your minimum stock levels and reorder triggers.

So tonight as your jockeys (or female equivalent) fall to the floor use that as a trigger to review your min/max stock order levels.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Why we do what we do.....

To date blogs have generally been a light hearted look at logistics, I am still amused that the most popular blog is the logistics of my packed lunch.  Today though I want to tell you why we do what we do. So let me start with a story:
Haitian National Flag
Cholera has just broken out in Haiti and as Country Director I find myself in a rush to get 8 Jeeps out of the port in Port au Prince.  The agency I was working for was distributing teams throughout the country, nursing teams, surveillance teams and janitorial teams clearing biotoxic waste.  My CEO, Sean, had flown in especially to add some weight to the proceedings of clearing vehicles.  We stood in the port on a Sunday morning with various officials who had been compelled to attend but remained courteous, a rag tag group of internationals had been rounded to drive the vehicles back in convoy, Americans, Brits, Costa Ricans, Haitians.  We sat under the shade of a tree waiting for the extraordinary process to take place each sipping from water bottles feeling the heat of the morning sun beat back up at us from the bleached hard-core laid at the disasters onset to increase the port’s standing area.  This is the first time some of the team have been out of the IDP camp for weeks.  The normality of the situation makes us feel a little giddy, waiting with nothing to do gives us a little time to make small talk; aid worker small talk…bowel movements, days spent in the same shirt, the idea of a cold beer.  On the other side of the fence row upon row of vehicle ours nowhere to be seen.  We joke about cutting the wire and breaking the whole lot out, cracked lips break into broad grins at the thought of releasing all this aid.
Sean and I are called forward and get to walk behind the wire to identify the vehicles, 8 of the most well equipped 4x4s I have ever laid eyes on and for this Chrysler Jeep get a name check.  Their donation was much appreciated, they arrived on time on spec and with no need for fanfare and even now that makes me feel just a little bit emotional.  The arrival and the agreement to waive any rights to fanfare allowed us to spirit teams off to the north to deliver much needed medical services.  The vehicles are ours and keys issued, tired, dirty aid workers give off spontaneous whoops of joy, spraying precious drinking water across the dusty windshields.  The team deserved this joy, but for me the logistician came to the service as I looked around this customs vehicle park the dust covered vehicles had a gloomy poignancy that echoed the disaster struck Haitian capital they had come to serve.  Emergency vehicles, rock crushers for rubble, NGO 4x4s all sat silent.  Many of these bore messages from their senders, “from the Rotarians of Springfield”, “Lutheran Church of Dusseldorf”, from mosques, from communities and companies yet all sat silent. Beyond the wire of this compound the container park, with row up on row of 20’ and 40’ foot boxes their contents baking in the now noon day sun.
Sean took out the lead vehicle and I took the rear with my wife at the wheel, which afforded me just a brief moment to look back and think that it shouldn’t be like this.  I’d like to be dramatic and say that I took some vow that this would never happen again but I didn’t.  I reflected on the ideas that have rumbled on in my head regarding The Logistics Project for 6 years and felt maybe now I should break out and do it.  I wanted to make a way to help the little players and donors in any emergency make their donation effective, to be the logistics department to the masses of small communities that make sacrifices to send aid only for it to sit in a port unused.  I wanted to make a way that didn’t hamper or clutter the machinery of the bigger agencies.  So that is why we do what we do.  We consult and train  prior to rapid onset disasters building skills, systems and relationships with both small community groups and larger NGO actors.  We seek to build leaders in humanitarian logistics practice wherever we work.  The funds we accrue from this go towards our action projects The Disaster Relief Unit (DRU)and The Geographic Information Mapping Project (GIMP).    DRU’s aim is to have expert logisticians on the ground in any emergency within 12-24 hours, whilst aid agencies are assessing the needs of the population we will work with others to ensure that the life blood materials are moving through the system promptly and effectively.  GIMP when required will give support to GIS mapping agencies providing up to date information for emergency cartographers.
That is why we do what we do, we believe it helps.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Disaster Preparedness for the Under 2s

As you may be able to tell I have children, 3 of them - Millie, Joel and Keshet.  I am very proud of them and hence they play an important part in my blog.  The two youngest are under two and at this age there is an air of the unpredictable that surrounds them.  Milk reflux, exploding diapers, unforeseen puddle jumping, an unhealthy interest in next door's dog's digging habits, melting chocolate from granny, fatigue, loss of favourite toys, loss of soother, loss of blanket, loss of humour, loss of ability to stand when confronted with an unsatisfactory choice; all of these can be yours hand in hand with the joy of watching them grow.  A question that my rock n roll and care free non parent friends ask me is how do you do this “how do your prepare for every eventuality?”

This year we will mostly
be wearing....

Now for those of you who read the Logistics of Transporting Children post you’ll probably think that we take everything everywhere with us but it just isn’t practical.  At 6’4 and 240 pounds and 6 years in the military behind me I do OK in a 100litre Bergen backpack but when visiting the more upmarket venues of downtown Bath I am sure people would question the need to bring everything with us.  As every good aid worker does at some time in their life I have experimented with a utility vest and I can’t deny I like that Marlboro man chic.  However as diapers spill out of the rear bellows pockets and “Mr Squiggles” makes an appearance every time you reach for your mobile it isn’t that tool that you want to respond to the many disasters that can occur in the life of the under twos.
So what is the correct way to cover the bodily function, emotional outburst, random boredom home wrecking behaviour that can occur.  How can you carry that kit?  Do you need to hire Sherpas like Everest climbers? Perhaps a little trolley arrangement? The answer to disaster preparedness is a mind-set and not a set of physical attributes or equipment schedules.  Sure “Mr Squiggles” is the best resolution for that emotional outburst but any good parent will tell you that you develop a hyper vigilance for items that can charm a two year old out of the maelstrom of emotion about the thing that they can’t quite remember.  Parents always know where the nearest cafĂ© or public lavatory will be and can quickly adapt everyday items into makeshift diapers, garments or toys.
There are some key principles for disaster preparedness in the under twos
Multi functionality – A packet of wet wipes is a good toy and a functional tool for cleaning of babies, garments and surfaces.  Taking this one thing can help you in a multitude of situations.
Don’t rely on the plan – That thing you were relying is lying in a muddy puddle half a mile back - as are your hops of baby going to sleep. Having a developed sense of the local resources will help you discern what unlikely item will fill the gap until you have access to the a better solution.
Stay Calm – don’t declare an emergency at the first site of tumbling Starbucks.  There may well be a local resource such as a Starbucks napkin that will save the day.  Your precious wet wipes can remain unemployed and free for removing facial chocolate before visiting aunt Maud. (a note to non parents – a Starbucks napkin does not have the tensile strength to remove chocolate from a toddlers face)
Know your stockholding ­– The first thing to reach for in this case is the management information.  How many diapers do I have and where are they? 
Disaggregate your stores -  Oh no the diapers got soaked in the Todller apple juice and latte incident……fear not here are some I keep in another location.  Even stores protected against rain damage can get damaged by fire so don’t rely on your mitigating packaging.
In short the whilst a healthy equipment schedule and a solid framework of a plan are an essential pivot around which to use your creativity in any disaster situation, when in doubt think “what would mamma do?”

NB My kids never do any of the above, this is all for the purposes of demonstration.....I love you guys!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Logistics of Transporting Children

I can’t call something The Logistics of Transporting Children without at least acknowledging the devastating trade in human life that goes on around the world.  We believe that governments, business, charities and individuals should do all they can to Stop The Traffik!

The humble Peugot 106

The transporting of children that I am referring to happens predominantly around Christmas time.  It is a challenge that would vex most distribution managers and load planners.  The seemingly simple task of loading two small people and two adults into a family car often leads to frustration late departure times, late arrivals, rushed cold meals, indigestion and grumpiness.  Mrs Al of The Logistics Project and I can at times be found alternating disbelieving stares  at the back of a Peugeot 106 and the pile of “kiddie stuff” piled at the rear bumper (fender).
Organising your load to your vehicle is a bad logistical principle, certainly in commercial logistics you don’t book a 7.5tonne truck for an 18tonne load because you’ll lose any profit in the fuel costs incurred by the shuttling backwards and forwards and customers won’t love it.   Equally ignoring the load size when loading the vehicle can lead to loading 15feet of shelving sideways across a 6 foot horse drawn cart in downtown El Fasher….. me?......no!…..I had walked away giggling by this point and let some Sudanese ingenuity make up for the lack of a spanner (wrench). (I will post pictures of this another day).
But we are stuck with the vehicle we had when we were just two adults blissfully unaware of the support component required to run a small child.  Nappies (diapers), Pushchairs (strollers), Babywipes (I don’t know what these are in the US), bottles of milk, jars of food, spare clothes, dummies (soothers), back up dummies (back up soothers), in car toys, destination toys, favourite toys …..oh my, oh my, oh my.  Never lose the favourite cuddly toy that allows baby to sleep otherwise your baby surely must fall under some kind of carriage of dangerous goods legislation.
So when you are stuck with a particular load bed to fit all your materiel in or on what do you consider?  What simple principles of load planning can we follow in the loading of children and their support component that may make your next visit to family more enjoyable?
Clarkson demonstrates....
thanks to Clarissa Draper for the photo.
1.         An evenly distributed load that allows the proper function of both vehicle and driver.  It is tempting to pack the children’s bouncy activity play centre in behind the driver’s seat but a driver with their knees up around their ears.  No fun at all; but fun to see others do.  Nor do you want a load that is dangerous or just plain annoying. The phrase the UK highways agency  uses is "restrained and contained".  Restrained referring to anything on the outside of the vehicle (do not be tempted to strap the children to the roof rack on this principle) Contained referring to materiel inside the vehicle we all have experienced that loose object rolling around the vehicle for 2 hours of country lanes which just drives us crazy.
2.         Priority & Function Sure those little fluffy toys pack out nicely and are easy to fit into almost any gap but the first dirty nappy (dookie filled diaper) will inform you that you should have packed the slightly less flexible pack of Pampers.  It is also worth considering operational issues and interdependent function; if you pack the travel cot – place the mattress in the must pack pile.
3.         Build your load ahead of time - In the RAF we called these chalks, because you would draw a chalk square on the ground the size of your load bed and see how much you could fit in it.  It saves paying truck drivers waiting time for excessive rearranging of loads.  If you have the load in your head it will take far less tweaks to make it fit around that unexpected wheel arch.  (I always used to reduce my chalk by 5% of the expected load bed to make room for the truckers sleeping mat and tea set in Niger just to make sure I never went short of space.).  In loading children get acquainted to the little areas within a folded pushchair (stroller) that you can stuff “Mr Squiggles”or “Barney”.
All too often in disaster relief and development settings you don’t get the ideal vehicle and you do have to make do and shuttle or even if you have to split loads across multiple vehicles., give a thought to whether it makes more sense to have a little of everything or whether you transport category by category.  For instance in an NFI (non-food items) distribution you can’t start until you have a reasonable amount of each item.  In a mass vaccination campaign don’t take the vaccines out first and wait for needles as it will test your cold chain   particularly if you have a hold up on the second trip/vehicle.  In a disaster relief setting it makes no sense to truck your education sets up hand in hand with food because hungry children don’t concentrate.
So next time you load the children for any trip, consider that these are skills that will make you invaluable as a competent aid logistics load planner.  If you find that load planning software means a tissue to dab away the tears perhaps The Logistics Project can help.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Logistics Project - proudly geographic

When stood in Gunung Sitoli (Indonesia) 2004, Rawlakot (Kashmir) 2005 or Port au Prince (Haiti) 2010 the predominant thought of collision is of tectonic plates.  The subduction of one plate by another creating violent tremors at least that is how I remember it from pre GSCE geography.  I have been musing on another collision that occurs on these occasions, a collision of the many streams of Geography.

Henry Morton Stanley
"Dr Livingstone I presume"

Before 2007 I would never have thought of myself as a geographer, in fact I thought of geography as Barney Bett my secondary school geography/sports teacher (tweed jacket, leather elbow patches, and too much corduroy to be a good thing……hmm must reduce tweed content of my own wardrobe).  I hate to admit I thought geography was the penance sports teachers had to pay for having the best job in the world.   In 2008 I was amazed to be accepted as a Fellow of The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). I certainly have no academic qualifications to back any claim although should a lottery win come in I would definitely consider going back to some undergrad study.  Whilst going about my business as an aid world logistician I had inadvertently indulged in many areas of geography from mapping aquifers in Sudan, to the cartographic efforts in Kashmir, tracking migration in Port au Prince or looking at cultural norms in Zinder (Niger).  In fact many of the heroes of British Geography weren’t geographers – Henry Morton Stanley was a Journalist, Dr David Livingstone a medical missionary, Robert Scott (of the Antarctic) a Royal Naval Officer.  So perhaps I can feel a little less that the “F” in my FRGS may stand for fake or fraud of The Royal Geographical Society. 

IOM - The lead agency in Haiti's recovery.

It has however got me to thinking that disaster zones seem to produce the highest concentrations of geographers (outside of the RGS lecture theatre) that I have known.  All disasters attract “ologistis” of some geographical bent.  Seismologist, climatologist, meteorologists, geologists all descended on Port au Prince.  Whilst working with JPHRO a meteorologist called Eric Holthaus was on my speed dial for hurricane season, I engaged Japanese military land engineers to stabilise a collapsing slope at the Petionville IDP camp. I took advice from landscape ecologists. As cholera broke out we all looked to the GIS specialist to create, recreate and update epidemiological maps; all this without even looking at the human geographers who would crop up in the reconstruction of Haiti’s social fabric after one of the Caribbean’s most dramatic seismic occurrences.  IOM (international organisation on Migration) tracked population’s moves whilst guiding the crisis response from their HQ at Toussaint Louveture airport.  Teams of development geographers, geopolitical geographers, economic geographers and social geographers packed out meetings aimed at defining the way forward in disaster recovery. Of an evening and a glass of wine on the inside I think all aid workers become geosophists.
It lead me to thinking that logistics is actually a geographical subject and in fact if we look at Wikipedia as a source of infallible information they site transport geography as a viable sub-stream of human geography, that is logistics if ever I heard it.  We are official!! We are intrigued by maps, movements, trends and when we choose aid and development as our arena of practice all of a sudden the physical geography comes in: seasons, water tables, the weight that mountains side tracks can carry safely.  It is all geography. So here at The Logistics Project we are proudly geographers!

Monday, 2 January 2012

RIP Jorge Boero

Jorge Boero - Dakar Rider and Adventurous Spirit

I don’t know how many of you follow The Dakar Rally.  To many it seems a pointless endeavor for petrol-heads but I have to say I love the adventure of it.  It had been my intention today to write a light piece on the logistics of The Dakar.  Sadly though Jorge Boero, an Argentinian biker crashed and died in yesterday’s special stage.  It is a sad day for The Dakar, bikers and of course Jorge Boero’s family.  
Many of you will wonder what the link from The Logistics Project to enduro bike riding is.  There are actually several links, as medical logistician I have worked in northern Darfur to run Medical Emergency Response Teams to deal with land mine strikes amongst the humanitarian community.  I was massively impressed to see that The Dakar managed to have heli-borne medics with Jorge Boero within 5 minutes of the accident.  This is a speed that any metropolitan ambulance crew would be happy to achieve.
There is a second link and it is The Geographic Information Management Project (The GIMP).  Back in 2005 I was in Kashmir with the United Nations Joint Logistics Centre (UNJLC).  Part of UNJLC’s effort was to create maps of the disaster affected area for the humanitarian community, we had an impressive array of GIS specialists but one of the challenges was to collect the raw tracking data for them to work with.  There were a plethora of people trundling the main routes between towns who were willing to take GPS tracks.  The problem was, that in Kashmir the disaster affected area covered a huge area of semi-rural communities who lived in small pockets spread liberally among mountains and valleys.  The routes to these communities were less well travelled as many of them were impassible by 4x4 at an early juncture so further information hadn’t been gathered.  I have for many years been an avid mountain biker and it struck me that a couple of fit and lightly equipped mountain bikers could quite easily map these areas with a few days of concerted effort hence the RECCE 246 team was born with the help of UNDSS.  The team  walked, biked and, where possible, drove into the most inaccessible ares of Kashmir to track the routes into the disaster zone.
On forming The Logistics Project it struck me that such a team could be needed again in the future.  We are also passionate in involving everyday people into disaster relief and development. My time leading JPHRO taught me that inexperienced volunteers could accomplish mighty things with a little direction.  Many brought skills such as carpentry, cookery and put them to best use.  The Logistics project came up with the idea of The GIMP; Mountain Bikers, Fell Runner, Mountaineers and Enduro Riders deployed at short notice for an intense period of gathering GPS tracks for GIS teams to use.  When we realised that Geographic Information Management Project spelled GIMP we initially laughed and thought we would look for another name.  Then I checked the definition of gimp and it turns out that it is the finishing touch to upholstery, a flattened braid; that kind of summed up The GIMP to me.  It isn’t core to what The Logistics Project do but it is one of the things we do to add value to our presence in disaster zones.  It is a way to engage the skill , expertise and passion of those willing to take a risk and do something amazing, perhaps the spirit of Jorge Boero.   If you are an experienced mountain biker, enduro rider, mountaineer or hill walker and you like the idea of being involved in The GIMP feel free to email info@thelogisticsproject.org.