Though another Hurricane Season is already underway, the world is still reckoning with the aftermath of last year's devastating storms. Hurricane Maria, in particular, remains top of mind. Escalating death tolls paint a dismal picture of response efforts and suggest that supply chain disruptions are often more deadly than extreme weather itself.
Citing recent reports, Direct Relief's Tony Morain writes, "Researchers estimate that most deaths from Hurricane Maria in September 2017, were caused by loss of access to medicines and health care, not by wind or water."
Morain's organization has made Puerto Rico a test center for experiments they hope will prevent such tragedies in the future. "Post-Hurricane Maria," says Director of Research and Analysis Andrew Shroeder, "Puerto Rico has quickly become a hotbed of innovation in disaster relief and healthcare resiliency." Recently, they teamed up with Merck, Softbox, AT&T and Volans-i to develop an innovative, drone-based method for responding to natural disasters and their aftermaths.
The pilot program relies on close collaboration and asks each organization to bring something essential to the table. Softbox, for example, is providing a temperature controlled packaging system that will keep medications refrigerated for delivery to remote areas. AT&T, for their part, will leverage their Internet of Things technology to monitor both the temperature and location of these packages.
According to Merck's Director of Supply Chain Management, the program hopes to address a number of challenges inherent to disaster relief. The organization not only has to "keep medicines safe, stable, and avoid tampering," but also devise methods for reaching "patients in places with restricted access or in difficult-to-reach terrains." Test flights have already taken the program's drones to areas that were only accessible by helicopter in Maria's aftermath. Upcoming tests will see drones travel over large bodies to make their deliveries.
So far, the tests have produced promising results. They bring the participating organizations one step closer to making this life-saving innovation in logistics a reality. While a truly hurricane-proof supply chain would mean controlling the weather, a hurricane-resilient one appears well within reach.