A day in the life of a female loggie
by Tabinda Syed (UNICEF)
Walking in the hushed corridor I was recollecting everything I was told so far. 140,000 dead or missing, water, food, shelter and health top priorities, open five hubs immediately, (check with Log cluster) more staff requirements… before I could finish I was already entering the conference room for the task force meeting which in contrast was buzzing with activity. My first for this mission! All I can hope for is that I am not yawning, giving away the jetlag. Everyone seems very serious - perhaps still recovering from the shock of seeing so much destruction around them. For me all I have to do is listen to capture what is needed, to support all programmes and to be able to plan realistically to help keep everyone’s stress level at a check. And most of all don’t panic or get angry if there are unrealistic requests.
The priority is food, shelter and health. Everything is required yesterday. The pressure is building from donors and partners but the biggest pressure is the human cost. No time to waste. The focus is supply distribution and all kinds of reports are required. What is in the pipeline, what’s in stock, what’s delivered? According to the information about the pipeline, a chartered flight is coming with High Energy Biscuits this morning. Can the nutrition colleagues indicate where they want the delivery of the first consignment of 5,000 boxes? We can deliver to more than one location so long as they can give us a distribution plan. They are still working on it but agree to send it by 10 am.
Next stop - the Supply Team. The Supply Manager has initiated the offshore requests and is assessing the possibility of local procurement. A conference call with UNICEF Supply Division (Copenhagen) this afternoon will clarify what is on the next chartered flights. I note in my dairy and ask for a vehicle to take me first to our new warehouse and later to the Logistics Cluster. Our efficient log assistant gives me the details of custom clearance procedures. Seems lengthy but at least he is familiar with all steps and documents required. And oh yes, can the transport request be sent to the transporter? We need at least ten 10 MT trucks at that warehouse today. The final destinations will be communicated as soon as we have the distribution plan but the transporter should be alerted in advance. Also please arrange a meeting with all out transporters this evening around five. And off I go…
The warehouse is not what I expected. It has a 5,000 square metre covered area in addition to open space (for NFIs that can be kept outside including water tanks and pipes) and two access doors for trucks. Fantastic. This is too good to be true.
Wait, not so fast! The landlady wants an immediate decision to extend the contract for a year with full advance payment otherwise there are many agencies inline to rent the facility. After a long chat over a cup of plain Chinese tea she agreed to wait for my response till the next morning. I assure her that UNICEF provides good business but am not sure if we can pay in advance at this stage. Besides, by cooperating with UNICEF, she is helping the children which is all that matters right now. I am hoping it will work but need to talk to Operations to speed up the contracting and allow us to pay at least three months in advance. I understand we don’t know how long we will need the warehouse. My guess is between six months and a year at the least.
Returning from the landlady’s office beside the warehouse, I notice a long queue of trucks loaded with relief goods. At first glance it seems like more than 30. And in the warehouse there is only one truck being offloaded!? The warehouse manager is a retired volunteer with little knowledge of warehousing. He has four students from a nearby college to assist him as tally clerks. And yes there is a data entry guy who is also new to UNICEF. Not again! None of them has a log background. The hour requires efficiency. Time is most precious commodity right now.
I explain to them that by delegating and multitasking we may be able to save more lives. I ask one of the tally clerks to gather all the delivery documents from the drivers queuing outside. I take the other two with me to see what could be the best warehouse layout given the fact that this huge warehouse is devoid of racking and only a few pallets are to be seen here and there. The guy is back with the delivery notes. Ummmm - OK, we can prioritise by offloading the off shore supplies that will give us the pallets that came with the supplies. We will have a separate area for pharmaceuticals. Other NFIs will be sorted out on a priority basis. The new tally clerks are quick to pick it up. I show them how several trucks can be offloaded as long as we have enough labour.
The labour is not skilled so first they should be shown how to stake[?]. The next three hours fly by and I only realise that it’ early time for the cluster meeting when the driver shows up. Can’t miss this one. OK guys, hold the fort. I am sure you can do it yourself. The food items (high energy biscuits) can be transferred to the smaller trucks and the waybills should be correct as per the distribution list. Just repeat on this printed Waybill form what I showed you for the first two trucks. OK, good luck. Diary note: Get a trained warehouse manager quick!
So good to see the shinning familiar faces. A Logistics Cluster meeting is usually a big reunion of all the seasoned loggies. I am sure I can speak my log language and be perfectly understood effortlessly. And here comes the gang. The Cluster lead is a good friend. He welcomes me with a big smile and open arms, as if we saw each other only yesterday. But it’s been a year and a half since we worked together on the airstrips in Africa[?]. I know I can count on all kinds of support from this cluster.
First question - tell me is there a blanket custom clearance provided for the relief goods? If not, what are the procedures?
First answer: The cluster is in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a meeting is scheduled this afternoon. There is hope that the government will provide the waiver for all aid agencies. Meanwhile the process has been streamlined somehow and the instructions are available on the Log Cluster website. Great.
Second question: Is UNHAS operational and if yes to which destinations?
Second answer: Yes they are and four MI8s arrived this morning. More are expected in the coming week. A CMR (cargo Movement request) should be submitted to get the space for tomorrow's rotations. Diary note: HEB to be airlifted, Send CMR.
Third question: Is the cluster opening hubs? If yes, can UNICEF share the premises free or on a cost sharing basis.
Third answer: Yes, but it’s not finalized yet how many hubs there will be in total. We already have two hubs and UNICEF is welcome to share for free this month. The long term arrangements can be discussed later. Do let us know your storage requirements.
OK guys got to go. Another conference call.
Hi Jess, sorry for being late. Was attending the cluster meeting. Seems like the machine is on the move. We have the support of the cluster. Can you send the details of the next chartered flight?
Jess: Ok sure. What we need from you is the Concept of Operation to see what help is needed from our end. You should tell us your staffing requirements at the earliest. Preferably for all the hubs and the capital. The pipeline report will be shared on daily basis.
Meeting with transporter went well. They agreed to continue providing required services to UNICEF although they would like to revisit the rates in the contract. They are assured that a five per cent increase can be adjusted but if there is more we will have to rebid. Diary note: review the existing contract.
Hope the IT guy has configured my laptop. I need to look at the pipeline reports. Oh no. 150 new messages. Let’s clean up. Wish I had a Blackberry to check this stuff while being driven around the city and stuck in traffic. OK, down to 33 urgent ones. It’s already 8 and I haven’t had a chance to eat a decent meal. All this caffeine is not helping either. Guys, can we order something? Yeah Pizza is just fine (comfort food).
Here are the CVs of potential candidates for national staff. Let’s review and short list a top ten. It will help if I can see them tomorrow - not for interview but at least an informal discussion. Don’t want to repeat the mistake of last time. Oops! I am sure other agencies are looking for people too. Have to act quickly otherwise this scarce resource will be hired by someone else.
Plan for tomorrow.
- Pursue the custom process
- Visit the warehouse
- Attend the morning task force meeting and update the programme colleagues on distribution
- Look at other modes of transport in addition to road and air. Perhaps the rivers provide a speedy route…
- Try to arrange informal meetings with candidates.
Can’t think anymore. How far is the hotel? At least there is one and no need to sleep on the floor. This one is not very bad. I can always have a dry bed and a warm shower till I move to the hubs.