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Containers for Haiti: Providing Transportation and Temporary Infrastructure

Operation Unified Response provided overwhelming support to Haiti after the nation suffered a catastrophic earthquake in January 2010. Once the United States pledged its support, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) Global Container Management (GCM) Division began the initial planning to provide containers not only for the transportation of humanitarian aid but also to serve as temporary storage and office space for the joint relief effort in Haiti.

SDDC’s GCM staff visualized this support through the concept of “One Container at a Time”. Using the concept, GCM staff assessed the uses one container could provide while on the ground in Haiti in addition to its traditional transportation role.

GCM, the program manager for the Master Container Leasing Contract for the Department of Defense, immediately activated one of SDDC’s largest container-leasing contracts to obtain 1,525 dry and refrigerated 20-foot containers. These containers were delivered to locations across the southern states to support the World Food Program, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the Military Postal Service Agency, and nongovernmental organizations.

GCM also sent out a “call for support” to all of the armed services to fill the container requirement. In answer to the GCM call, the Army moved more than 60 containers and the Navy supplied 4 refrigerated containers, 1 power-supply generator, and more than 30 modular containers for housing and office space to the Port of Jacksonville, Florida.

The GCM operations section began working with Joint Task Force-Haiti (JTF–H) and the U.S. Southern Command to establish three essential components of container management during Operation Unified Response: standing operating procedures, metrics for accountability, and container-tracking methods.

GCM’s system section immediately met the need for container tracking and cost accountability by quickly modifying the U.S. Central Command’s system of record for container tracking, the Integrated Booking System Container Management Module (IBS–CMM). Using this modified version of IBS–CMM, GCM saved taxpayers more than $27,000 in commercial container fees and long-term costs for sustaining the relief effort.

GCM met the container storage and transportation needs, but it realized that it would need to deploy its team forward to Jacksonville and to Haiti to work with other organizations in managing and tracking these containers. Once initial coordination was made and the equipment and teams were in place, GCM shifted its efforts to the next critical need for support. GCM approached this mission in the same way as it has other deployments and applied its experience in the multiple uses of containers to meet Haiti’s needs.

A container is not only the preferred mode of transport for supplies, it is arguably the best alternative for mobile storage, office, and living accommodations in areas where the infrastructure either does not exist or is being rebuilt. In Haiti, containers are now providing temporary infrastructure for offices, houses, and schools. GCM is working with JTF–H, U.S. Government agencies, and Haitian government agencies to meet this requirement.

The same containers that were used to quickly get the essential needs for human survival to Haiti are now used to support the education of Haitian children. Containers that brought water or food to Haiti now hold desks and chalkboards. Approximately 300 containers remain on the ground to provide temporary facilities in support of Haiti as it continues to rebuild its infrastructure.

Thomas Catchings is the Programs and System Program Manager for Global Container Management with the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command at Fort Eustis, Virginia. He holds a B.A. degree from Alabama State University and a master’s degree in business management with a military focus from Touro University and is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College’s Civilian Advanced Course and the Civilian Education System Foundation and Basic Courses.

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