Go Big. Go Fast. Go Smart. Maritime Delivers After Disasters

Oct 1, 2018 | Defense Transportation Journal

By Amelia P. Smith, President, A.WordSmith

Images courtesy Crowley

When it comes to effective disaster response, experience shows that the best approach is often a multi-modal one comprised of marine, air and inland transportation support. Depending on the circumstances of each event, deploying a custom mix of these logistics modalities can hasten the delivery of humanitarian aid, the restoration of municipalities and, most importantly, the well-being of impacted individuals.

To ensure such capabilities are available when needed, today’s response agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), proactively partner with expeditionary logistics companies that can offer this type of comprehensive support. Prior to an event, these pre-arranged partners typically have responsibility for being intimately familiar with the response plans; staging relief supplies; and ensuring resources, such as warehouse space, materials and equipment, are available if needed.

And while each transportation option brings unique benefits to the equation, perhaps one of the most fundamental of the three is maritime—also one of the oldest industries in existence. Today’s maritime companies are more than just basic tug-and-barge operators; many are experienced logistics providers that can offer end-to-end, supply chain solutions for all types of customers.

One such company that has demonstrated full logistics services and marine solutions to a wide variety of US response agencies is Crowley Maritime Corporation, headquartered in Jacksonville, FL. As a well-known logistics company with its roots in the marine industry, Crowley has over the decades provided response agencies with marine, inland and air transportation options for a variety of incidents, including natural disasters, chemical weapons handling and disposal, humanitarian assistance, military, and commercial operations around the world.

The advantages of response organizations partnering with a marine-focused logistics company can’t be overemphasized.

“If a storm hits, infrastructure and roadways can be devastated,” said Crowley’s Bob Weist, Vice President, US Land Transportation. “But the ocean is usually left untouched. Maritime companies can do immediate waterway assessments to gain access to ports often faster than roadways can be reopened. And most barges don’t require port infrastructure to work—marine operators can maneuver beach landings or lighter humanitarian cargo ashore to provide immediate relief and support to people in need.”

While air transportation unquestionably offers some of the fastest speeds, Crowley’s Kris Rogers, Director, Government Services, points out that: “Even smaller barges can carry more than 100 times the cargo that a single aircraft can, as well as heavier loads, at a much lower cost.”

The ability to deliver mass amounts of humanitarian aid, oversized and overweight equipment and materials, support vehicles and more immediately after a disaster is paramount.

“Crowley understands that FEMA has an unofficial mantra in times of crisis,” continued Rogers. “It’s ‘go big, go fast and go smart.’ When we hear this, it means we should use all our resources to get the job done, which can be overwhelming to those unaccustomed to that type of response. But we’ll get the job done quickly using whatever solution is needed. It’s in our DNA to do so.”


Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico

Most recently, the maritime industry demonstrated this capability in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20, 2017. The storm claimed lives and crippled the island’s infrastructure and power grid.

As a Jones Act shipping line and leading provider of supply chain services between the US mainland and Puerto Rico for more than 65 years, Crowley was the US government’s solution for response support. The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, requires vessels in domestic waterborne trade to be owned by US citizens, built in the United States and crewed by US mariners. As an American-flagged carrier, Crowley has for decades maintained strong relationships with Puerto Rico leaders, as well as US government response agencies. Officials also knew of Crowley’s reputation and capabilities from the company’s previous rapid expeditionary response efforts around the world.

Prior to the storm, Crowley, had pre-positioned vessels that could respond as soon as the storm passed, carrying 2,200 full container loads of food and aid cargo, as well as commercial goods with thousands more loads to follow. Because air cargo was limited early on, US Jones Act carriers, like Crowley, were the island’s immediate lifeline.

When the San Juan harbor reopened on September 23, Crowley was the first to enter, and managed the logistics and transportation of more than 100,000 TEUs (20-foot containers or equivalents) of government relief and commercial cargo that would be transported over the next six months. The company’s new Isla Grande pier, cranes and terminal infrastructure upgrades sustained only minor damage and thus provided a stable discharge point for the cargo.

The government relief effort, run primarily through FEMA and Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), involved the transportation of tens of thousands of shipping containers loaded with water, meals and other life-sustaining materials, as well as transporting power poles, electrical transformers and other infrastructure. The Crowley-managed supply chain for the government stretched from the US Northwest to the island.

Crowley’s teams next expanded its US-flagged fleet from nine to 16 vessels, thanks to the addition of two company-owned and retrofitted, heavy-lift, flat-deck barges, as well as chartered vessels. The larger fleet in service ensured almost daily vessel arrivals and an upped capacity by 67 percent.

“Jones Act carriers have the robust capability to upscale the services already provided and call upon their existing network of logistics providers,” said Crowley’s Wally Gonzalez, Director, Project Logistics. “If a third party attempted this, they would have been starting from scratch. In this case, we had employees and assets already in place. We could utilize and augment a first-class vessel fleet that was already serving the island.”

Even with the unprecedented levels of cargo being transported by Crowley and other US-flag carriers, immediate pick-up of containers lagged in the Port of San Juan, as did the return of empty containers to support the flow of supplies to store shelves and distribution centers. Roadways were blocked, virtually all communications were down, there was no electricity and a shortage of available truck drivers limited over-the-road transportation and distribution of the cargo coming in by ocean vessels.

To alleviate this challenge, the company worked with government leaders and others to help restore the supply chain. It sourced equipment as far away as the Midwest, adding 5,000 extra containers and hundreds of additional chassis to its Puerto Rico equipment fleet and it doubled warehouse space on the island to alleviate delayed turn times. That solution came from Crowley’s logistics team, whose intermodal team partnered with CSX to supply containers by train from Chicago to Jacksonville, FL, to help provide cargo capacity.

“We were the premier transportation service provider to several responding agencies, providing everything from cross-docking in the US, shipping to the island and trucking of cargo across Puerto Rico,” said Gonzalez. “There are very few companies that could have provided an end-to-end solution like Crowley did for an event of this magnitude. FEMA looked at us as the primary transportation option to support this operation.”

To help improve fuel distribution across the island, Crowley supported the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)’s emergency response fuel supply contractor Foster Fuels, shipping more than 130 of their fuel trucks to San Juan. When demand surged for CDL/HAZMAT-certified fuel truck drivers, Crowley Fuels—the company’s Alaska-based petroleum transportation, distribution and sales division—dispatched six of its own drivers from Alaska to support the island.

The rebuilding of the electrical grid in Puerto Rico also presented challenges, so the government again turned to Crowley for solutions. Starting in November, the company transported around more than 50,000 wooden, concrete and galvanized steel poles; over 10 million miles of wire; 7,000 transformers; and much more materiel aboard multiple flat deck barges.

But helping to restore power on the island of Vieques off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast presented more challenges. Together, Crowley’s logistics, liner services and ship management teams chartered a specially sized barge to carry equipment and materials; provided the necessary logistics, freight forwarding and delivery services; and managed the stevedoring operation over a semi-improved bulkhead.

“We continued to work with our customers in Puerto Rico and stateside, including FEMA, to provide them with reliable services to meet the recovery needs,” said Frank Larkin, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Logistics and Commercial Services. “As a full supply chain services provider, we understood that services from the port onward—including warehousing and final-mile deliveries—were crucial to the island’s recovery.”


Hurricane Sandy, Northeastern US

In 2013, New York and New Jersey experienced similar devastation following Hurricane Sandy. Again, the maritime industry rose to the challenge.

The Department of Transportation (DOT)’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) has a mission of ensuring that the US transportation network can recover quickly after natural disasters or other incidents. One way it does this is by maintaining a Ready Reserve Fleet (RRF) of ships that can deliver cargo and aid, as well as provide cost-effective berthing and meals to responders when hotels and restaurants aren’t an option.

Following Sandy, the RRF ship, S.S. Wright (managed by Crowley), along with fellow MARAD vessel USTS Kennedy, relocated to Staten Island, NY, to provide berthing and meals for more than 900 FEMA personnel and Red Cross relief workers, among others, daily. Stationed in New York for more than a month, the S.S. Wright provided more than 4,000 overnight accommodations and over 15,000 meals.

“The rapid activation and deployment of the S.S. Wright to New York and success of the mission was unprecedented, thanks to the cooperation and joint effort of afloat and shore-side personnel,” said Crowley’s Mike Golonka, Vice President, Government Services. “The entire effort was a testament of how Crowley—and the maritime industry as a whole—can offer relief during times of great need.”

But the response wasn’t limited by the shoreline. Proving full supply chain solutions yet again, Crowley’s logistics team coordinated the land transportation of oversized pumps, generators and associated equipment in support of DLA and USACE. Crowley’s liner shipping services team, then based in Pennsauken, NJ, provided additional support services by supplying necessary transportation equipment and truck drivers. The fleet of heavy haul trucks—nearly 150 in total from all over the US and Canada—delivered the out-of-gauge equipment to Lakehurst, NJ, where the Crowley logistics team then arranged for the cargo to be unloaded quickly using heavy-lift cranes and transported to their final destinations throughout the tri-state area via cost-effective shuttles. In a single day up to 30 trucks made deliveries.

“Similar to our response efforts following Hurricane Maria, and others in the past, we leveraged our companywide talents, personnel and assets to deliver a top-notch suite of response capabilities that greatly benefited that stricken area,” said Rogers.


Operation United Assistance for the Ebola Epidemic, Africa

It’s important to note that the advantages of a maritime response extend beyond Crowley’s traditional logistics footprint of the US and Caribbean Basin. In 2015, the maritime industry was also tapped to provide critical logistics services in support of Operation United Assistance (OUA), the US military’s mission to fight the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa. These efforts, delivered by Crowley, included supplying emergency shipping, warehousing, trucking, stevedoring, Customs brokerage and other logistics capabilities, first to the US Government’s DLA and then to the US Army, in both Liberia and Senegal, Africa.

The support began within a week of being notified that aid was required. During that time, Crowley developed an innovative solution that included chartering the containership Vega, which had the cargo-carrying capacity of 17 C17 Globemaster military transport aircrafts in a single run, from Germany to the staging area of Dakar, Senegal, and final destination in Buchanan, Liberia. The plan also included establishing eight warehouses to receive air freighted humanitarian aid and construction supplies for distribution, and it arranged for trucking support for more than 4,000 loads of cargo to remote construction sites in Liberia.

Crowley’s efforts ultimately supported the more than 3,000 deployed US troops and made possible the construction of 17 fully stocked, remote Ebola treatment centers.

“Crowley’s ability to respond to a requirement of that magnitude with very little time is a testament to the company’s global reach and commitment to deliver,” said Gonzalez. “This success is due to our unique combination of technical maritime skills that are overlaid with global logistics capabilities. There really isn’t another company that could offer this kind of support as quickly and safely as we did. The project was tailor made for us—and it was the right thing to do.”


Go Big, Go Fast, Go Smart

As demonstrated in just these few examples, the maritime industry is uniquely positioned to respond to incidents around the world with full supply chain solutions, that include marine assets, inland transportation, air support and more. In the past decade alone, Crowley, along with the greater maritime industry, has provided innovative, multi-modal support to government response agencies following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, in 2005; the earthquake in Haiti, in 2010; the demobilizing of Syrian chemical weapons at sea, in 2015; and countless others.

“Those of us in the maritime industry are actually knowledgeable in land, air and sea,” said Weist. “For most of these events, it wasn’t just one factor that made the responses successful. It happened because the industry pooled its resources and worked together with government agencies to prepare for and execute a response. At the end of the day, the maritime sector knows it’s about getting humanitarian aid where it is needed, helping infrastructure be rebuilt and improving survivors’ quality of life.”

Though no one can predict when or where the next event will take place, a look back at history confirms that the maritime industry stands at the ready to support nearly any response required around the world.

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