With the recent tornado strikes, and the ruination left behind, in Granbury, TX and throughout Oklahoma, there are hundreds left picking up the pieces and, tragically, several casualties. If there is anything that can be taken away from these events, it's how businesses can be affected by not only the storm's damage itself but by the resulting impact to the surrounding infrastructure. History, it seems, is full of these disaster-related shortages, from Asian flooding limiting computer component shipments in recent years, to a 2003 tornado causing a shortage in Pringles. Weather, and tornadoes in particular, can cause extreme infrastructure damage very quickly, and almost uniquely to the case of tornadoes, unpredictably. So how to plan around something that can't be predicted?

A bit of disclaimer: I grew up in a tornado-prone area of Alabama. When I was five, a twister threw my neighbor's swing into our front yard and did enough damage that we didn't have school the rest of the week. When I was 20, a storm came through, destroying supermarkets and lives with equal ease, twisting gas station canopies into bow ties, and making off with a trailer full of brand new Mercedes SUVs. I had been out of the state for years when the April 27, 2011 tornado ripped through downtown Tuscaloosa, though a good portion of my family still lives there. That said, the way I grew up, storms happened, storms caused damage -- sometimes worse -- and you moved on. The belief was that there was nothing that could be done to prepare for future storms.


This is an easy one, if not a bit daunting because of all the work and money involved in doing it. Tornadoes may not be predictable in the way that we can sort of predict when a hurricane will make landfall, but they tend to only happen where the warm Gulf of Mexico air clashes with the cool Canadian air brought down from the jet stream. This is over the American Midwest and South aka Tornado Alley. Get out of tornado alley, and you get out of harms way.

While some companies are moving into storm-prone areas, like Facebook's new data center that will be in Altoona, IA, Source One is also seeing a slew of companies moving operations away from disaster-prone areas, both domestic and international disasters. Latin America, and particularly Mexico, is becoming a manufacturing darling due to their relatively disaster-free climates.

Build Redundancies

While the goal of every supply chain nowadays is to become lean on inventory and suppliers, the ability to function in the case of a natural disaster should factor into these supply chain decisions. If your supply chain is running lean, and you're organization keeps little inventory and works on-demand, supplier diversification and redundancy is critical if any components or services originate in disaster-prone areas.


Besides its climate and relative freedom from disasters, one of the attributes that makes Mexico so attractive to relocating manufacturers is the transportation infrastructure, specifically the railroad. Asphalt roadways are relatively frail structures -- just look at how quickly winter weather creates potholes and stresses bridge spans -- and road-legal vehicles are easily destroyed by high-wind storms. Compare these facts to railroads being steel beams nailed into the ground and rail cars being much heavier and difficult to flip. Add in the idea that a train car is more efficient per ton of cargo than a tractor trailer, and that rails run through most of Tornado Alley, and solid access to the nation's railroad system becomes a worthy disaster relief, and environmentally friendly, measure.

In the end, no storm, much less a tornado, can be fully prepared for, but the inability to foresee every contingency does not an excuse make. What disasters are unique to your businesses environment and how do you plan for them?

NOTE: This article was written prior to the horrific storms that struck outside Oklahoma City on 5/20/13. 
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Nicholas Hamner

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