Weathering the storm
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, DHL teams in Puerto Rico kept operations running against all odds – helping employees, moving critical life sciences cargo and caring for communities.
Maria, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record, hit Puerto Rico with full force, causing a humanitarian crisis. The entire island was cut off from electricity, and clean water, food and fuel were scarce. In the immediate aftermath, almost nothing moved. DHL however was back in business within 36 hours, with DHL Global Forwarding (DGF) moving critical life sciences goods for customers and DHL Express operating flights as soon as San Juan airport reopened, providing cargo capacity some two weeks before others resumed operations. Javier Aleman, DGF Station Manager in Puerto Rico, talks about how teams bonded together to help employees, customers and communities when many others could not – and how helping the communities continues until today.
Javier, what goes through your mind when a powerful hurricane is about to slam Puerto Rico?
Our clear priority was to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees, and this focus really carried us through those first couple of days. After accounting for everyone and assessing their personal situations, we did what was necessary to ensure their basic needs, including water, food, fuel, generators for their homes and daycare for their kids. We negotiated with local gas stations to provide priority service to employees and ar- ranged meals through a local cafeteria. Most employees came back to work within 36 hours, which was incredible. Ensuring the well-being of our people was really the key to everything else we were able to achieve.
"We really all moved ‘A s One’ – that unity made us very powerful."
By the time other companies resumed regular operations, you had been moving cargo and aid for two weeks and were busy supporting communities in need. Why was DHL in such a strong position to help?
I see three main success factors. First, the attention we paid to our own people, making sure they were well, able to work and ready to help others. Second, our preparedness. Hurricane Irma had struck the region less than two weeks before, and we seized on this chance to update our hurricane preparedness plan, including agreements with fuel suppliers, which proved to be critical. Third, the power of DHL’s network. DHL Express has a policy of being the last out, first in, in any type of disaster situation, and theirs were the only planes flying in after the airport reopened. Jointly, the teams in Puerto Rico did an outstanding job – supported by our entire global network. Colleagues from DHL Supply Chain and Customer Solutions & Innovation helped to support customers, and the DPDHL Disaster Response Team was on the ground to help distribute humanitarian relief. DHL employees in the U.S. and beyond donated an incredible amount of humanitarian aid. We really all moved “As One” – that unity made us very powerful.
Your proudest moment?
During the hurricane and its aftermath, I was in contact with so many people throughout the organization and everyone had this “How can I help?” attitude; it filled me with pride each time. We received thank you letters from a number of major healthcare customers, and even a letter from the mother of an infant who received critical supplies just in time. We had countless employees participating in relief efforts, personally delivering help to distressed families across the island. Even today, some of the non-profits in Puerto Rico continue to receive support from DHL. The list goes on! It’s really all about a common “can-do” spirit, and I’m just proud to be part of it.