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Amazon disaster response team aids recovery efforts from Houston to Indonesia

Benjamin Romano, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

"We're tapping into all these various sources within the company that are already looking at this type of information," said Trang-Thien Tran, principal product manager on the disaster relief team.

As a quick look at the GDACS reveals, there are disasters large and small constantly happening all over the world.

Amazon, large as it is, can't respond to all of them. The company evaluates and categorizes each disaster using an internal scoring system that includes the scale of the disaster, its potential impact on Amazon employees and customers where they work and live, and whether nonprofits have proactively sought support from the company for their response.

Amazon is focusing on natural disasters rather than slow-moving humanitarian crises that might have a political cause. Stix cited the "huge misery" of the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and the civil war in Yemen, which UNICEF describes as the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.

"They still have a lot of needs, but we haven't really found a way of how we can help," she said.

When the company does decide to respond, it aims to do so quickly.

 

The disaster relief team, now consisting of five employees, has established contacts in business units across the company who stand ready to make their specific contribution when the time comes. More than 800 employees in the company's retail and operations businesses have been involved -- employees doing their normal jobs, but now attuned to the special needs of disaster.

The company works with local authorities and disaster managers to ensure roads are passable and warehouses are open before sending in a truck- or planeload of relief supplies, such as water, snacks, canned food, personal hygiene items and cellphone charger cables. After Hurricane Harvey, Amazon coordinated with the Red Cross and the city of Houston to get a police escort to bring trailers of goods into the inundated city.

The company also deploys its massive inventory and logistics prowess to supply specific items needed by disaster responders and victims.

A few weeks after the 2017 Northern California wildfires, the vendor manager in charge of the gold-panning sifters put in an extra order to make sure they were available nearby as wildfires struck in Southern California, Stix said.

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