When unstoppable weather meets an immovable supply chain
Monday, September 18, 2017
As hurricane seasons go, 2017 is shaping up to be the one of the most devastating years on record. There isn't an in-place industry that hasn't been left in shambles throughout Houston and the west coast of Florida.
Strong, driving winds have knocked out power, threatening refrigerated facilities and disabling safety mechanics (such as theft deterrents) in the regions. And flooding has made any kind of traditional logistics movement nearly impossible to coordinate. The act of moving goods and materials has essentially been paralyzed, an issue that might be damage-related or simply a symptom of earmarking transport methods for recovery supplies.
If you aren't in Houston or Florida right now, how confident are you in your team's ability to manage a warehouse in crisis?
Expect damage to the chain, not just your facility
Even if your building and staff work well outside the range of the storm, it doesn't necessarily mean your goods are safe. The route they take to and from will almost definitely be impaired — if any portion of your supply chain involves air travel near the affected site, you can expect multiple days of delays.
Emergency evacuations will reduce or eliminate the individuals who fill important logistics roles, too. Even if your trucks can get to an endangered warehouse, there's no guarantee someone will be there to offload them. And if the natural disaster occurs in a foreign country, your access to raw materials from suppliers might be cut off entirely, sending ripples throughout the supply chain.
These scenarios are precisely why it's vital to have a Plan B when it comes to your supply chain — transportation methods, temporary storage facilities, alternate suppliers, and so on. If you've already penciled out a contingency plan, you can cut down on the worst parts of the impact, enabling you to get up and running again more quickly.
... But facility damage can't be ignored
If your warehouse is unlucky enough to bear the brunt of Mother Nature's wrath, fixing the problem might go well beyond clearing debris. Even stock that wasn't necessarily damaged might need to be discarded — dried-up water damage can be difficult to spot, as can internal breakage from packages colliding with one another.
There are also safety concerns for the surrounding environment. In Texas, Harvey-damaged chemical plants have put surrounding industrial sites in a precarious position. Risking the health and safety of your staff isn't an option, and without clear guidelines on cleanup, those leaking chemicals could make your otherwise-habitable facility off limits for weeks or months.
Information is power
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have made a strong case for creating — and auditing — a comprehensive contact list for every link in your supply chain. In a disaster, being able to contact these chain partners will help you avoid late fees on invoices and coordinate alternate efforts to keep your chain running as smoothly as possible.
Provided it's feasible, having a disaster plan can help a great deal as well, even if it's no more sophisticated than "load as much product as possible into our trucks and drive away from the storm when X weather alert occurs." While your first priority must be the lives of your staff, a close second should be safeguarding the employment they'll need for support while they rebuild.
Devastating weather events like hurricanes are inevitable, particularly for facilities along coasts. How you weather them as a company, however, can be a defining moment.
Make sure that panic and hasty decisions don't have a shelf in your warehouse. Forewarned is forearmed in matters of logistics, so know where you stand well before evacuations are a subject of debate.
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