Preparedness & Recovery

UPS: Serving the Community During Times of Need

Robert Smith of UPS Air Group and Transportation Security addresses emergency management and how the company helps out in crisis situations all over the world.

by / October 15, 2012
Flickr/Kuba Bozanowski Flickr/Kuba Bozanowski

As vice president of the UPS Air Group and Transportation Security, Robert Smith is a regular on the emergency management talk circuit educating audiences on how UPS handles security and helps communities in crisis. Smith is the chairperson for the Louisville, Ky., Crisis Group Security Subcommittee, composed of heads of security for major corporations, as well as federal, state and city police. He is a 34-year UPS veteran.

Question: How is UPS working with the state of Kentucky in being available during a crisis?

Answer: UPS and numerous other organizations are working with Michael Dossett, private-sector program manager at the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, on a test program called the Mutual Aid Support System (MASS). Once this test phase is complete, it should be kicked out across the United States under an EMAC [Emergency Management Assistant Compact] program authorized through FEMA.
What are your functions as transportation security vice president?

I oversee security for one of the world’s largest airlines, including more than 20,000 employees and the [UPS] Worldport facility in Louisville, Ky. My team is responsible for regulatory compliance for the airline, as well as security regulations for the indirect air carrier program as it applies to UPS Supply Chain Solutions, UPS Freight and Cartage Services Inc. My team and I also implement the UPS security program as outlined by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act on the domestic and international fronts. In addition, my role involves crisis management and emergency response.

During a National Level Exercise (NLE), UPS Airlines was asked to provide assistance in the drill to truck supplies and fly people into the impacted areas because the NLE stated that the bridges were out of service. Can you elaborate?

Dossett contacted me and asked if UPS Airlines could get on a conference bridge with his folks to work through the exercise for the NLE. I was able to pull many executives from flight operations, our transportation folks for the ground operations, as well as industrial engineering folks from UPS for this call in less than 45 minutes. We were able to provide solutions in every request Dossett and his folks had. In this situation, we were not able to act on them because there were no operational agreements or contracts to allow UPS to utilize both UPS and outside vendors with small feeder aircraft. MASS will correct that and make it very easy for all of us in the private sector to support state and federal governments during crisis.

Can you cite other examples of UPS helping in emergencies?

UPS regularly helps out in crisis situations all over the world. We have responded to natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake and Asian tsunamis. We just finished two famine-relief flights into Africa’s drought-stricken Sahel region. We have lifted portable hospitals, water purifying equipment, hygiene kits, tents, therapeutic food and other supplies into disaster areas.

We have developed expertise in disaster relief logistics, and we loan people to work with international security and humanitarian organizations on relief efforts. As you might imagine, flying into disaster zones and setting up a distribution network can be a security challenge, especially in the third world. We work hard on those missions to protect our people and aircraft.

How else is UPS positioned to help during disasters?

Locally I serve on the board of the Crisis Management for Greater Louisville First Responders team, also known as The Group. The Group’s work has led to a relationship with the state in emergency management. Together we work to address crisis management, homeland security, disaster preparedness and related issues representing the private sector. 

After the recent tornado outbreak in Kentucky and southern Indiana, we worked with the Red Cross and other groups to distribute trailers full of relief supplies throughout the region. We even helped man’s best friend, sending trucks full of pet food from No Kill Louisville to London and Paintsville in rural Kentucky. And our corporate charitable arm, the UPS Foundation, has as one of its primary initiatives humanitarian relief efforts. 

You’ve said UPS Airline works with other airlines on security issues. Can you elaborate as much as you’re allowed to about those issues, and how and why you work with the industry?

UPS Airlines and the industry battle hard for customers. However, behind the scenes, we have a lot of common ground on industrywide safety and security issues. Whether through direct interaction or industry trade groups, we share best practices for the common good. We also collaborate in
working with regulatory organizations such as the FAA and TSA on shaping better cargo security regulations and on other industry issues.

Jim McKay Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his wife, Christie, daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout. Jim can be reached at