Partnership with FedEx enabled rapid response in Oklahoma tornado response


As the devastating tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma earlier this week, Direct Relief’s rapid response – which has included 10 emergency overnight deliveries of requested medications and supplies – was possible for many reasons: an ongoing program already in place for several years with partners in Oklahoma; Direct Relief’s unique status as the only nonprofit licensed to distribute prescription medications in Oklahoma and all other U.S. states; current inventory of medications and vaccine stockpiled in anticipation of such events; and a protocol for emergency communications.

But another critical enabling factor was the tremendous support that FedEx provided – as it has in virtually every other major emergency over the past several years – with urgency and its legendary efficiency and speed, but without any fanfare.

Over the past four years, FedEx has made more than 20,000 deliveries of prescription medications and supplies from Direct Relief to U.S. nonprofit clinics and facilities, to all 50 states – at no charge. This has been essential in helping Direct Relief create and build out a nationwide program – that is transparent, efficient, and precise – as a way to provide charitable medications for people who need them at over one thousand nonprofit community clinics and health centers.

For obvious reasons as well as significantly extensive legal ones, the safe, secure, and proper handling and distribution of medications is necessary at all times. This remains true, and perhaps even more so, in emergencies such as the one this week. Even on a good day through normal commercial channels, delivering specific medications that require specialized cold-chain handling 15 hours after being ordered involves a lot of things to work in sync. We felt very fortunate to be able to do so this week during in an unfolding emergency and simply to help people living through an awful situation, but we also know that it was possible only because of the distribution backbone and know-how of FedEx.

Direct Relief’s emergency medical aid this week also included for the first time a new technology that we have been discussing with FedEx and solves a longstanding problem of knowing the temperature status of material when it is en route. We included in our emergency shipments of tetanus and TDAP vaccine, which must be maintained in a narrow cold temperature range, these new devices (SenseAware powered by FedEx) which monitor temperature, location, exposure to light, and other data points in near real-time to so medical aid can be shipped and tracked much more effectively.

This type and level of information always has been desired, but the technology simply hasn’t been viable.

The logistics staff at Direct Relief was trained on the devices last week and was able to use the devices for tornado relief efforts. The devices were packed along with the vaccine in specialized cold-chain boxes with refrigerated gel packs, and the team was able to monitor the temperature of the vaccines in near real-time to ensure that control was maintained at all times. We were very pleased that the first use of this worked so well and that it was available to assist people in Oklahoma.

We recognize that the tragedy and devastation that the people in Oklahoma have experienced, as well as the very tough road ahead, will require much more assistance of other types than Direct Relief will be able to provide, given our organization’s focus on helping those who with health and medical challenges. But, with regard to the health issues and access to needed medications and supplies, Direct Relief is deeply committed to providing as much help as efficiently as possible for people affected by this tragedy. The assistance from FedEx is an amazing force-multiplier for Direct Relief’s efforts and everyone else that has responded so generously to help.

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