Todd Horne: Master of Disaster

Every logistics professional handles the occasional crisis. But for Todd Horne, crisis is the core of the job. As a disaster logistics officer with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Horne moves relief supplies such as food, blankets, plastic sheeting and water purification kits to help victims of war and natural disaster.

Horne works for USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), which maintains supplies in warehouses around the world; the three main ones are in Florida, Italy and Dubai. Along with keeping those stockpiles at optimum levels, he also arranges the transportation of goods to relief teams that work for groups such as CARE, the International Organization for Migration, or OFDA’s Disaster Mitigation Response Division.

A lucky placement by a temp employment agency steered Horne toward humanitarian logistics right after college. A three-and-a-half-month assignment at Matrix International in Alexandria, Va., led to a 10-year career with the freight forwarder, which specializes in logistics for aid agencies.

For about five years, Horne helped aid workers traveling to and from assignments move their household goods. Later, he handled air charters for humanitarian missions.

“The first project I worked on was sending relief supplies to Chechnya for the U.S. State Department,” he says. He sent food to victims of Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua and Honduras, brought equipment home for the Fairfax County, Va., Search and Rescue Team after they responded to an earthquake in Turkey and flew aid to Kosovo and Macedonia during the Balkan conflicts.

Horne joined USAID in July 2000. Recent missions have included shipping aid to refugees in Angola and providing winter supplies to civilians in Iraq. “We’re in the process of getting those supplies—the blankets, and plastic water containers—from our warehouse in Dubai ready to ship to Basra and Baghdad,” Horne explained in November.

Getting relief supplies to Iraq is easier now than just after the U.S. invasion last spring, when Horne spent three months in Kuwait.

“The airports were closed to commercial traffic, so we couldn’t get shipments to Baghdad that easily,” he recalls. “Another problem was that the commercial carriers wouldn’t truck from Kuwait. They might go just across the border, but they wouldn’t go too far in.”

Horne relied on help from the military. “It worked pretty well, but the communication was tough,” he says. “A military person would go with the truck, and we wouldn’t know if it got there until he got back to Kuwait City. We couldn’t really call Baghdad and say, ‘Hey, is my stuff there?'”

Moving supplies into a war zone will never be simple, but Horne says recent developments in his field are starting to make his job easier. The Fritz Institute, for example, is working on systems for tracking relief shipments, and agencies are devoting more attention and money to managing their supply chains.

“The humanitarian community is taking it more seriously now,” he says.

While his branch of logistics poses unusual obstacles, it also provides special rewards. “You can have a direct impact on people, and make their lives better,” Horne says.

Sometimes the good results of his work show up on the TV news. “I might see people living in a tent or wrapped up in blankets or using supplies we provided,” he says. “I know a lot of people are involved, but I also know that we had an impact.”

The Big Questions

What are you reading?

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, by Peter Hopkirk.

Advice to people starting out in logistics?

Expect the unexpected. Be able to react quickly to problems or bottlenecks. Be responsive.

Your mission?

The most important thing is being customer service-oriented. Even though our customers are disaster victims, they’re still the customers, and we can’t forget that. When you keep that in mind, you make the work more personal; you do a better job.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I’m pretty active. I run a lot and play softball.

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