Leveraging technology to get airports ready for disaster during a pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted DHL’s Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD) workshops. Our disaster management experts are now deploying state-of-the-art wearable collaboration technology to keep the program alive and expand its reach despite travel restrictions.

Staying on GARD despite social distancing

For nearly 20 years, Chris Weeks has faced many challenging situations all over the world. As our Director for Humanitarian Affairs, Chris helps manage DHL’s GoHelp program – a strategic disaster management partnership with the United Nations (UN). He leads both our Disaster Response Teams (DRT) and our Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD) workshops.

“Our job is to help the United Nations get relief goods into disaster-affected countries following natural events such as earthquakes and cyclones,” says Chris. “And by learning from past events and training teams on what to expect and how to respond, we can reduce the negative impact and help people recover more quickly.”

In the wake of the pandemic, the GoHelp team found itself facing a new type of challenge. Due to travel restrictions, the GARD trainers could not organize their standard five-day, on-site workshops. GARD workshops are designed to teach airport personnel about disaster management and help them prepare their facilities for the challenges of managing incoming relief aid should disaster strike.

Hands-free Remote Collaboration Tool HMT-1 © RealWear

GARD is more than communication & collaboration

Now that many companies have adapted to using video calls and collaboration software, you would think DHL's GoHelp GARD team could simply set up an online workshop. But it’s not that easy.

“The airport assessment is the real key to GARD,” says Chris. “We spend an entire day on walkabout, looking for strengths and weaknesses – things the airport can improve. I’ve looked at a lot of airports. You need to see it with your own eyes – that’s when you notice things that can make a difference in those hectic days right after a disaster.”

That’s why the GARD team turned to the DHL Innovation Center for support. Our innovation experts provided a state-of-the-art remote collaboration tool: the RealWear HMT-1, which they had been testing. The HMT-1 is a hands-free wearable computer designed for industrial workers. Equipped with a high-definition camera and high-quality audio and noise cancellation capabilities, it allows an expert to remotely see and hear what the on-site personnel sees and hears.

The first virtual GARD workshop

With the HMT-1 in hand and the support of Airport Council International (ACI), the team set up a GARD workshop at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in February 2021, to test this innovative technology. Only four DHL instructors were present so that the workshop could be delivered as a hybrid classroom and online training session while adhering to COVID-19 safety measures.

After giving virtual presentations and following the in-class activities on day 1, Chris and his remote team were able to join the airport assessment tour on day 2 and interact with the on-site GARD instructors and airport personnel.

“It certainly wasn’t the same as being there,” says GARD lead trainer Kim Melville. “But it was the next best thing. We were able to communicate with the group, ask questions, take a second look at things. I was very impressed – and I’m excited about what we can do with this technology.”

In times of a pandemic, this event in Puerto Rico was digital.

Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD)








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A flagship public-private partnership

In the wake of a natural disaster, bottlenecks in the flow of relief supplies can occur at airports in or near the affected area. Often the existing infrastructure cannot handle the tremendous volume of incoming goods. 

”In our experience, many airports are not prepared for what happens after a natural disaster,” says Kathrin Mohr, Head of the GoHelp program. “The surge in air traffic, including many unscheduled cargo flights, can quickly disrupt regular airport operations.”

That’s why we established a flagship public-private partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD) is one pillar of that partnership. Our experienced airport trainers conduct workshops to prepare participants for the logistical challenge of a disaster relief effort. These help them improve processes for handling large volumes of incoming relief workers and supplies.

By partnering with the UNDP, we can cooperate closely with local authorities and government ministries, which facilitates both the planning and execution of the workshops. And GARD becomes a platform for dialogue and exchange between experts in humanitarian logistics and disaster management.

Since we launched GARD in 2009, we have held workshops at over 50 airports in nearly 30 countries, training more than 1,300 people. Close collaboration with the UNDP and a growing network of other partner organizations have helped make this program both valuable and sustainable – and we look forward to continuing this vital work.


Our worldwide disaster management activities

Published: February 2021

Disaster Preparedness

Our experienced airport trainers conduct workshops to prepare participants for the logistical challenge of a disaster relief effort.

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