This Opinion piece appears in the Nov. 17 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
By Jeff Vielhaber
Chief Operating Officer
In April, after a hard winter across the United States, everyone waited with bated breath for relaxing summer days. However, in much of the country, those days were few and far between. With winter snowstorms lasting well into spring, a harsh hurricane season and a devastating tornado season, it seemed like we just couldn’t get a break.
Now, fall is here, and the first snow has fallen in some parts of the country. More harsh weather is on the way, and everyone is wondering if this year’s holiday season will mirror last year’s struggles. However, there are a few things shippers can do to prepare for potential supply chain disruptions.
First, plan for known weather conditions by evaluating the most likely natural disasters to hit your operating area and rank them based on the probability of occurrence. Preparing for known conditions will require more concrete solutions with actual mitigating strategies in place. For example, if the operational area is low lying within a river basin, keeping a ready supply of sand bags on hand may be a worthwhile cost.
Second, determine what utilities are most likely to be affected with each issue and what infrastructure damage is likely to occur.
Designing disaster-recovery plans for statistically probable local events would generally include tangible arrangement for the necessary tools to ensure business continuity. For shippers, this includes working with carriers or owner-operators with their own documented disaster-recovery plans, as well as arranging for the potential of a communication breakdown from your base of operations.
Communication plans are the linchpin of any good disaster-recovery plan. Having set arrangements to maintain communication allows for better shipment tracking, rerouting and general support. The brunt of maintaining communication falls on logistics facilities.
If a logistics facility goes completely dark, the likelihood of losing shipments in a disaster goes up exponentially. Take for example, a carrier en route to deliver a load to a warehouse that is in the path of a tornado. While the warehouse shuts down and clears out, that driver needs to be notified and rerouted to a different destination.
Remember, violent storms often walk hand-in-hand with power loss, stranded carriers and labor shortages. It is vital to plan for these eventualities and have backups in place, such as a generator, providing fuel for resupply arrangements and contacts for contingency office space and/or temporary labor.
Along these same lines, it is also important to plan for the need of a new or different type of carrier to step in and complete delivery.
This type of plan requires strong relationships between shippers and carriers to quickly move past pricing discussions and get loads moving again. If, for example, an agreed-upon carrier is mired in flood waters on the way to pick up a load, the shipper will need to efficiently line up another carrier to minimize supply chain disruptions.
Again, this requires finesse and strong relationships between carriers and shippers. The last thing you want is to scramble to find any available carrier to handle a stranded load. Rather, a good disaster-recovery plan includes the list of contacts in all modes of transportation that you can rely on to find capacity for you in a crisis.
These carriers should meet your safety standards with regards to:
• Active authority.
• Business references.
• CSA scores.
• FMCSA rating.
• Lines of insurance and insurance limits.
Be sure carriers have client representatives who can support your initiatives 24/7, as natural disasters don’t always strike between the 9-to-5 workday. Their own disaster-recovery plans should include keeping necessary supplies on hand, as well as completing and documenting preventative maintenance.
For example, it is good practice for drivers in the northern United States and Canada to begin preparing for their most treacherous driving season well before any snow begins to fall. These preparations can include stocking up on water, pre-packaged meals and extra clothes, as well as sand bags, anti-freeze and spare snow tires. Smart drivers also check their tire pressure, wheel alignment and brakes, have their engine serviced, and make sure their heating system is in good working order.
I’ve outlined scenarios for you which can be expected in any given supply chain. However, throughout each year, unexpected events take place that can have drastic and lasting effects on supply chains nationwide. Having risk-mitigation strategies in place for even zero-likelihood events is especially important to keep your business up and running with minimal disruption. Clients and carriers alike rely on third-party-logistics providers or other logistics coordinators with comprehensive disaster-recovery plans that can handle last-minute crises and changes quickly and efficiently.
TTS is a Dallas-based third-party provider of transportation and logistics management services.