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Transport management in emergencies can be a complex task depending on the nature of the disaster. Humanitarian organizations have increasingly begun to tap into the joint transport services as a strategy in emergencies, such as those offered by the Logistics Cluster during emergencies. A joint transportation service is based on a collaborative approach and aims to leverage the advantages of centralized coordination and sharing of assets.

Managing Transport Providers

Humanitarian response organizations have increasingly begun to rely on external transport providers. An external transport provider is defined as any third-party who can carry or identify vessels that can carry cargo through commercial means. In the event third-party transport providers are contracted, there has to be a structured approach to the selection process, similar to other forms of procurement, and subsequent monitoring and control of the provider or providers selected. There are a number of important issues to be considered to ensure that a reputable provider, who will provide the adequate level of service, at an acceptable cost, is sourced.

The selection process adopted for the acquisition of all services is covered by the organization's approved procurement policy, processes and procedures. Ideally, contracting should be done in a competitive manner, on market terms, and negotiations undertaken in an open and transparent fashion, thus ensuring cost effectiveness and equal opportunities for the appropriate commercial entities.

There has also been an increasing level of attention to the ethical standards of contractors, including their facilitation and participation what would be considered violations of state and national laws, human rights abuses, or their involvement with parties to conflict. Entities such as ethicalcargo.org provide tools and training to guide agencies seeking ethical cargo solutions.

Transporter Selection Criteria

The criteria for selection will vary from organization to organization. Some factors that may influence the selection of transport service providers are:

  • Carrier characteristics and capacity
  • Proven efficiency
  • Timeliness of delivery
  • Known integrity, reputation and reliability
  • Good relationships with other carriers
  • Responsiveness to urgent needs of the organization (if previously contracted)
  • Financial viability to cover costs of providing the service
  • Adequate communication systems to facilitate tracking
  • Assets to safeguard organization cargo
  • Ability to provide a multi-modal service, if need be
  • Presentation of timely reports and correct invoices

Organising transport

In emergency contexts, transport can logically be divided between domestic/local transport and international transport. The general concepts around domestic and international transport remain largely the same, however special considerations are required for both.

Domestic transport movement - Local movements within a specific country will usually involve road transport, however rail, air, river and even at time sea transport can occur in domestic movement. This may involve movement of palletized/bulk loads from ports, airports and railyards to warehouses and depots, palletized/bulk movements between facilities such as warehouses or depots, or delivery of smaller consignments from a local warehouse or depot to end users at a number of destinations in an area. Domestic transport requires actors to follow all local laws and safety regulations.

International movement - International transport requires the transmission of physical goods across a legally defined international border or boundary, and in most normal circumstances requires undergoing standard customs procedures.  In normal circumstances the local market will not always be able to provide all the products and services required to fulfill the needs identified in an emergency response. Response agencies therefore will source goods externally and organize the transportation of relief supplies to affected locations. To ensure efficiency and compliance with import regulations the organizations seek service providers with expertise and capacity to handle certain aspects of the movement.

Typical Service Providers

Freight Forwarders – Commercial third-party companies or individuals that act as brokers between transport companies, customs agents, logistics providers, and other commercial services that might support packaging/handling, warehousing, transportation, or any other aspect of moving material goods from one place to another. Unless a requesting agency has well defined transport routes and a detailed understanding of the shipping market, freight forwarders are essential for identifying and pricing transport options, especially in chaotic post emergency settings. Forwarders have contacts within the transport communities and know how where to look for the best shipping options.

Clearing Agents – Commercial third-party companies or individuals who specialize in understanding import and export regulations, and help facilitate the flow of material goods through customs. Though clearing agents may be used for import or export, the majority of their services are employed for getting goods into countries. Import and export regulations are complex and the failure to comply can result in fines or worse. Many countries require an official licensing process for clearing agents, and unless organizations have specific expertise in customs agents should always be consulted for imports of any kind.

Inspection Services – Private third-party services that conduct inspection on goods in transit. This may include physical counting, damage inspection, laboratory testing, inspection of batch/lot/expiration, validating specifications, etc. Inspection services may be required for importation, but many agencies employ inspection services during upstream transport, especially at the point of procurement.

Third Party Logistics Provider (3PL) – Commercial third-party logistics providers that can assume a portion of or the entire supply chain. 3PLs can act on behalf of contracting agencies for a variety of services, including warehousing, kitting, procurement, quality inspections, transport and even developing supply chain strategies without providing a physical service. 3PLs tend to be more expensive, but can offer holistic solutions to some agencies who may need additional support.

The aforementioned service providers are all vendors, and as such the regular procurement process for each respective agencies should still be applied. Agencies would do well to obtain multiple quotes, review performance, and incrementally conduct new bid analysis. Criteria for selection of above service providers might:

  • Licensed by the government to conduct customs clearance formalities and be up-to-date on changes in customs requirements
  • Offer a wide variety of services, so that shippers do not need to contract several different companies for different services
  • Own or have access to a bonded warehouse to protect and control shipments in transit
  • Own a trucking fleet for inland transport and have access to specialized vehicles when needed such as container trucks, low-bed trailers, tankers, etc
  • Are flexible in their availability at short notice, also outside of office hours and on public holidays
  • Have an established reputation and have been in business for a number of years
  • Have influence in the transport market, with port authorities, etc
  • Are experienced in successfully handling duty exemption arrangements for humanitarian organizations
  • Have an office in the port area or nearby
  • Have at least a country-wide, preferably a multi-country regional network
  • Use technology effectively, including a good telecommunications system and, preferably, a computerized tracking system that allows visibility of where shipments are at a given time

...

Organising transport

In emergency contexts, transport can logically be divided between domestic/local transport and international transport. The general concepts around domestic and international transport remain largely the same, however special considerations are required for both.

Domestic transport movement - Local movements within a specific country will usually involve road transport, however rail, air, river and even at time sea transport can occur in domestic movement. This may involve movement of palletized/bulk loads from ports, airports and railyards to warehouses and depots, palletized/bulk movements between facilities such as warehouses or depots, or delivery of smaller consignments from a local warehouse or depot to end users at a number of destinations in an area. Domestic transport requires actors to follow all local laws and safety regulations.

International movement - International transport requires the transmission of physical goods across a legally defined international border or boundary, and in most normal circumstances requires undergoing standard customs procedures.  In normal circumstances the local market will not always be able to provide all the products and services required to fulfill the needs identified in an emergency response. Response agencies therefore will source goods externally and organize the transportation of relief supplies to affected locations. To ensure efficiency and compliance with import regulations the organizations seek service providers with expertise and capacity to handle certain aspects of the movement.

Managing Transport Service Providers

Humanitarian response organizations have increasingly begun to rely on external transport providers. An external transport provider is defined as any third-party who can carry or identify vessels that can carry cargo through commercial means. In the event third-party transport providers are contracted, there has to be a structured approach to the selection process, similar to other forms of procurement, and subsequent monitoring and control of the provider or providers selected. There are a number of important issues to be considered to ensure that a reputable provider, who will provide the adequate level of service, at an acceptable cost, is sourced.

The selection process adopted for the acquisition of all services is covered by the organization's approved procurement policy, processes and procedures. Ideally, contracting should be done in a competitive manner, on market terms, and negotiations undertaken in an open and transparent fashion, thus ensuring cost effectiveness and equal opportunities for the appropriate commercial entities.

There has also been an increasing level of attention to the ethical standards of contractors, including their facilitation and participation what would be considered violations of state and national laws, human rights abuses, or their involvement with parties to conflict. Entities such as ethicalcargo.org provide tools and training to guide agencies seeking ethical cargo solutions.

General Transport Service Provider Selection Criteria

The criteria for selection will vary from organization to organization. Some factors that may influence the selection of transport service providers are:

  • Carrier characteristics and capacity
  • Proven efficiency
  • Timeliness of delivery
  • Known integrity, reputation and reliability
  • Good relationships with other carriers
  • Financial viability to cover costs of providing the service
  • Ability to provide a multi-modal service, if need be
  • Presentation of timely reports and correct invoices
  • Licensed by the government to conduct customs clearance formalities and be up-to-date on changes in customs requirements
  • Own or have access to a bonded warehouse to protect and control shipments in transit
  • Own a trucking fleet for inland transport and have access to specialized vehicles when needed such as container trucks, low-bed trailers, tankers, etc
  • Are flexible in their availability at short notice, also outside of office hours and on public holidays
  • Have influence in the transport market, with port authorities, etc
  • Are experienced in successfully handling duty exemption arrangements for humanitarian organizations
  • Have an office in the port area or nearby
  • Have at least a country-wide, preferably a multi-country regional network
  • Use technology effectively, including a good telecommunications system and, preferably, a computerized tracking system that allows visibility of where shipments are at a given time

Typical Service Providers

Although it is advisable to use an intermediary such as a freight forwarder or clearing agent to handle international movements, it is still important to have a basic understanding of the roles of other third-party service providers involved in international movement. 

Private Transport Companies - Private companies that own and operate vehicles such as trucks or planes directly. Many private transport companies have direct sales and customer service components, in particular small scale, local transport companies. Other companies, such as major air lines may not have the time or capacity to manage direct customer sales, and prefer to go through brokers or forwarders. A direct relationship with a transport company can certainly save costs, but for any services that require complex intermodal solutions that may not all be owned by the same company, or in situations where customer service is inadequate, contracting forwarders might be the best solution. 

Freight Forwarders – Commercial third-party companies or individuals that act as brokers between transport companies, customs agents, logistics providers, and other commercial services that might support packaging/handling, warehousing, transportation, or any other aspect of moving material goods from one place to another. Unless a requesting agency has well defined transport routes and a detailed understanding of the shipping market, freight forwarders are essential for identifying and pricing transport options, especially in chaotic post emergency settings. Forwarders have contacts within the transport communities and know how where to look for the best shipping options.

Clearing Agents – Commercial third-party companies or individuals who specialize in understanding import and export regulations, and help facilitate the flow of material goods through customs. Though clearing agents may be used for import or export, the majority of their services are employed for getting goods into countries. Import and export regulations are complex and the failure to comply can result in fines or worse. Many countries require an official licensing process for clearing agents, and unless organizations have specific expertise in customs agents should always be consulted for imports of any kind.

Inspection Services – Private third-party services that conduct inspection on goods in transit. This may include physical counting, damage inspection, laboratory testing, inspection of batch/lot/expiration, validating specifications, etc. Inspection services may be required for importation, but many agencies employ inspection services during upstream transport, especially at the point of procurement.

Third Party Logistics Provider (3PL) – Commercial third-party logistics providers that can assume a portion of or the entire supply chain. 3PLs can act on behalf of contracting agencies for a variety of services, including warehousing, kitting, procurement, quality inspections, transport and even developing supply chain strategies without providing a physical service. 3PLs tend to be more expensive, but can offer holistic solutions to some agencies who may need additional support.

The aforementioned service providers are all vendors, and as such the regular procurement process for each respective agencies should still be applied. Agencies would do well to obtain multiple quotes, review performance, and incrementally conduct new bid analysis. 

Other related parties frequently encountered with cargo operations are:

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