The window next to my desk in the Philadelphia suburbs has been dark for days. If the weather predictions are accurate, I won’t be seeing the sun for some time. How’s that for an end of summer farewell?

Still, things could be a lot worse – and I wouldn’t need to go that many miles south to prove it.
Sitting here, smack in the middle of hurricane season, it isn’t hard to see how much of an impact these devastating weather events have. From property damage to road closures, supply chains are constantly put at risk by these forces. So, the key question to ask is – is your supply chain “Hurricane-Proof?”

The Impact of Hurricanes on Logistics

The question is asked largely with tongue in cheek. Simply put, no supply chain is or could be hurricane-proof. Anyone who makes such a claim is either not considering all the ways a storm can ruin their strategy… or is off their rocker.

Supply chains (despite our best planning), can be fragile, inflexible things. As an example, consider Hurricane Florence. If you have any material moving through South Carolina to Virginia, buckle up: at best, you can expect delays. For facilities located within the region, we should prepare for the infrastructure needed to sustain operations – electricity, water, communications – to be knocked out. Federal Emergency Management Agency associate administrator Jeff Byard is quoted in the linked article as saying we’re going to need a long-term recovery, because, “this is not going to be a storm that we recover from in days.”

Byard raises a good point. Hurricane Harvey required an average recovery time of 10-20 weeks, will full recovery needing up to a full 52 weeks. That’s a lot of time! A lot goes into this time span. Needed infrastructure repairs to power and roadways will be required to connect facilities back to the outside world after the storm subsides. Even then, damage to facilities and the equipment within them will add additional time and costs to the recovery.

Preparing for future storms.

Not to put it bluntly, but the hour of reckoning is at hand for Hurricane Florence. We’re as prepared for her as we are going to be. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep on eye on the future. Procurement should take this time, and this event, as a chance to talk about preparing for weather-related supply chain disruptions.

Let’s start by gathering some critical info from our teams internally:
  • Where does our supply chain take us geographically? What severe weather events did we see in these regions over the last year? What should we expect to see moving forward?
  • What are our critical lead times? How much of a “fudge factor” buffer is built into them?
  • For products that can be warehoused, how much inventory is kept on-hand? How do inventory levels change based on typical annual weather patterns? What is the cost of additional warehousing… and what would be the cost of failing to stock up?
  • How prepared are our facilities to weather the storm? Are there SOPs around facility maintenance? All the supply chain planning in the world won’t matter if shipments can’t make it to the docks that are flooded out or otherwise inaccessible.

Let’s also turn an eye to our key supplier relationships in this space:
  • Do we have any redundancy within our supply base in case of emergency?
  • Even if we have our own contingency plans in place to deal with weather events, do our suppliers? Have we reviewed them?
  • How much capacity does our supply base have and, in moments of stress, how far can this capacity stretch?
  • What degree of cost increases can we expect during times of crisis (hint: hope for the best, but budget for the worst).
  • How many modes of transportation do suppliers offer? Switching modes up could provide some flexibility.

You can't control everything. When it comes to the weather, the most any of us can do is plan ahead and prepare to the best of our abilities. Make sure you're taking the steps needed today to protect your supply chain from tomorrow's storm.
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Brian Seipel

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