With more than 650,000 disaster relief items delivered over the past four years to people around Australia affected by disasters—from floods and bushfires to droughts and a pandemic—Amazon is devoted to helping out when a crisis hits a community. Most recently, we worked with our non-profit partners to provide communities in Far North Queensland with more than 25,000 relief items after Tropical Cyclone Jasper tore through the coastline, causing heavy rainfall and strong winds, destroying hundreds of homes, and leaving remote communities stranded without power.
But how exactly does an operation like this come together smoothly and quickly during an emergency?
We spoke to Amazon In The Community Australia lead Charlotte Richardson to find out what goes on behind the scenes at an Amazon Disaster Relief Hub, and how an army of big-hearted volunteers works to deliver critical disaster relief kits to where they are most needed.
What is an Amazon Disaster Relief Hub?
“Amazon’s Disaster Relief Hubs are designated disaster relief sections inside select Amazon fulfilment centres and logistics sites. We pre-position tens of thousands of critical emergency relief items inside the hubs so that we can help our non-profit partners Foodbank, Australian Red Cross and St Vincent de Paul Society respond to natural disasters and extreme events within 72 hours.
"These hubs are strategically located in areas that help us meet the needs of our partners. At any one time, we have more than 250,000 relief items stored across our six Disaster Relief Hubs in Australia in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.”
What kinds of items are stored in an Amazon Disaster Relief Hub?
“We store all kinds of things that might be needed in a disaster, ranging from tarps, blankets and sleeping bags, to first aid kits, clean-up supplies and personal hygiene items like toothpaste, sunscreen, tampons and nappies—things that someone fleeing their home wouldn’t necessarily take with them, but can provide so much dignity to someone who has lost everything.
"We also have a few items you might not expect, like snake bite kits—only in Australia!"Charlotte RichardsonAmazon In The Community Australia lead
“These items are usually pre-packaged into kits by teams of Amazon volunteers ahead of time so they are ready to be dispatched immediately. We also have a few items you might not expect, like snake bite kits—only in Australia! Where possible, these items have been sourced and purchased from Amazon Australia’s small and medium business selling partners, like Nakie, Little Urchin, Zenify, Joonya, Beauty and the Bees, BSKT, The Lad Collective and Juuni.”
How does Amazon determine which items are stored?
“We use data and insights from our non-profit partners to identify the relief items most commonly needed on the ground when a disaster strikes. We aim to anticipate upcoming disaster requests and the necessary items we’ll need to support them. While every disaster is different, we now have a better understanding of which items communities will need most when certain disasters strike, so we work with our relief partners to pre-pack these items so they’re ready when needed.
“After a disaster strikes, we’ll work with our non-profit partners to determine what they’re doing, what unmet needs they have, and how we can best support. In most cases, it takes a couple of days for these relief organisations to fully understand where and what the needs are. For example, sometimes one part of the town doesn't need nappies, but the other side of town needs a lot of them. Our non-profit partners, including Foodbank and the Red Cross, gather all of that information and send us a list of specific product requests. From there, we identify the closest disaster relief hub and deliver them where they need to be.”
What happens when a Disaster Relief Hub is activated?
“It’s a true team effort! If there is a disaster, we monitor the news and immediately reach out to our non-profit partners to offer our support and make sure we understand their needs. If our non-profit partners request items which have been pre-positioned in our Hubs, we contact a Disaster Relief Ambassador—an Amazon operations volunteer—to locate the pallets ready for our transport team to determine the fastest way to get the relief items to where they’re needed. Either Amazon or our non-profit partner, Foodbank, will then deliver the items directly to affected communities. If we don't have the relief items requested in our hubs, we work with our small Australian businesses to procure and send the products directly to the nonprofits or disaster zones."