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story.lead_photo.caption Volunteers load a tractor-trailer with donations for Hurricane Harvey victims earlier this week in Johnstown, Pa. The donations are to be delivered to Rosenberg, Texas, this weekend.

As Hurricane Irma slams islands in the Caribbean and heads toward Florida, its path will inevitably lead to a flood of donations from Americans wanting to help out, but logistics professionals are asking people to send only requested items -- or send money to trustworthy agencies.

Disaster-relief coordination is made up of volunteer and government first responders who identify which materials are needed and work with a network of supply-chain managers who orchestrate the daily shuffle of trucks that deliver the donations.

"The No. 1 one issue they face in response, a vast majority of them indicate, is handling the donations," said professor Jose Holguin-Veras, of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. "A large portion of the donations after [a] disaster is useless."

Holguin-Veras has spent years interviewing first responders to natural and man-made disasters, including the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the 2015 Nepal earthquake. He's seen everything from donations of bottled water to odd items like wedding dresses, a Halloween tiger costume, pork products to Muslim communities -- and even a truckload of Viagra.

"Think about if you lost your house, and then somebody says, 'I can give you this pair of shoes and this shirt,'" said Kathy Fulton, the executive director of the American Logistics Aid Network. "How are you going to feel?"

Already in Austin, the Texas capital, the staging area for donations bound for the areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey is running low on space because of high volumes of supplies given by the public.

With financial donations, relief workers are in a better position to rent warehouse space, buy supplies or pay a truck driver to haul goods to a destination. While random items bog them down, money widens the scope of their operations.

"Individuals who are working in the space are dealing with [this] issue, and it's real," said University of Arkansas supply-chain professor John Kent. "You or I might donate something because we have it, and it all sounds good ... but from a management of disaster recovery perspective, that's probably the smarter manager, the one who denies these items."

For people leery of sending their money to large organizations, both Fulton and Holguin-Veras recommend giving to local charities.

There are also people skeptical of financial donations because of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, who some perceive to have been too slow or unorganized.

Many logistics professionals were frustrated with their own slow response to Katrina and Hurricane Rita in 2005. Rick Blasgen, president and chief executive of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, said there was not enough coordination between private industry and the government. They began working more closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as state and local agencies, to sync their skills and capabilities.

"It was really the logistics community who got together to do this," he said.

For those who are unwilling to give cash, donations of items should be dropped off at designated centers, such as food banks and other places that are a part of the supply chain.

"We know how to mobilize," he said. "That is what we do."

Business on 09/07/2017

Print Headline: Disaster-relief sites teem, but cash talks

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