On a recent afternoon, a truck backs into to a loading dock at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Atlanta Distribution Center. It’s full of boxes containing MREs, or meals, ready to eat.
David Johnson, the distribution center’s manager, said since Hurricane Harvey, the warehouse has been operating for about 17 hours a day, loading and receiving trucks full of supplies. Over the past month, the agency’s been busy responding to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, he said.
“We’ve been pretty much running wide-open since the first one started,” Johnson said.
The warehouse, which spans more than 400,000 square feet, stores emergency supplies like food, blankets, and pet carriers. A large section in the facility, the cool room, is set at around 68 degrees, and can store about 2.4 million meals, he said.
Johnson said for efficiency, technology helps. FEMA uses a logistical management system that keeps track of supplies and orders in real-time, and each truck that goes out gets a GPS device, he said.
“So we can ping that trailer and we know exactly where the commodities are,” he said.
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The warehouse represents some of changes that have taken place within FEMA since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Claire Connolly Knox, director of the Emergency Management and Homeland Security program at the University of Central Florida. Back then, the agency was criticized for its slow response.
“Severe devastation and the lack of adequate communication led to logistic failures including shipments being misplaced, food spoiling,” Knox said.
As part of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, FEMA had to improve its logistics, Knox said.
The Atlanta distribution center opened in 2010, and there are several others across the country. Warehouse lead Krystyna Blocker Hurley, who’s been with FEMA since 1998, remembers how the distribution centers responded to disasters before.
“I was here during Katrina, 9/11. I’ve been through them all,” she said.
She said Atlanta’s old distribution center had about a quarter of the capacity for storage compared to the new site, and only a couple of loading docks. The new center has more than 100 loading bays.
The agency is also more proactive in getting supplies out to areas before a storm hits, she said.
Johnson, the center’s manager, said in recent weeks, the center sent out all of the meals and water it had stored, and has been working on replenishing its supplies.