IWLA Members: When Disaster Strikes There are No Guarantees

FEMAThere is a lot to learn from times of disaster. Unfortunately this education comes retrospectively, when we are in the most need. A recent CSCMP Chicago Roundtable, organized in conjunction with the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), addressed “How to Stay in Business After a Disaster.” The session took place at FEMA Region V Headquarters in Chicago, Ill.

The event included an interactive mobile simulation exercise under the Mid-Atlantic Supply Chain Resilience Project (part of the Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program). Attendees experienced simulated impediments to supply chain resilience and how to overcome them in times of chaos.

Each attendee was assigned a role: manufacturer or transportation company. The tool featured a grid (similar to the game Battleship) where each box had a number that identified how many pallets of supplies were desired. Each truckload carried a maximum of 10 pallets per load. The game did not allow for less-than-truckloads (LTLs).

To start, attendees experience a normal supply-and-demand scenario, where they would have to locate the transportation company owners, request the number of needed trucks, and assign those trucks to the locations on the grid. A leaderboard of both manufacturers and transportation companies fulfilling their needs demonstrated the ease with which this was accomplished.

Then disaster struck. Almost instantly the demand outweighed the supply. There were communication failures at certain locations on the grid that needed to be fixed. Some of the locations could not be accessed because of the damage.

Immediately it was clear that transportation companies were becoming more selective on how the trucks were being used. Attendees built strategic relationships with each other based on need. Trucks were being used to the fullest to bring the maximum amount of supplies to places in need—there was no excuse for LTLs in a disaster.

The exercise demonstrated the power of resilience. In times of disaster there is a major lack of communication, from emergency service providers, disaster response volunteers, residents, and city officials on what the needs are and what must be done to minimize the damage. This is evident time and time again in historical disasters.

When the lines of communication are weak and there are no plans of action, resources are underutilized and misdirected. Warehouses and logistics companies have a rare opportunity to provide support in these circumstances. But they, too, can misguide resources if they are not aware of the needs.

ALAN and FEMA stress the importance of every warehouse logistics organization having a disaster recovery plan in place. When your plan is practiced and understood by everyone in an organization you can spring into action as quickly as a disaster strikes.

Not all disasters produce the same needs. Warehouses that have a close eye on their inventory, available space, available trucks, and labor will be better prepared to provide the resources that are in need. Getting the right information to the right person at the right time is critical to recovery response.

This is where organizations like ALAN, FEMA, and the Red Cross become an essential communications tool. They are able to assess the disaster, assign needs, and communicate that to the warehouse logistics organization. IWLA members have an opportunity to build relationships with these groups in advance, so when the time comes that their resources can be put to work, the communication lines are open and responsive.

We all have a responsibility when it comes to unexpected tragedies. IWLA encourages all members to be part of the recovery process in times of disaster, when there are no guarantees.

How prepared is your warehouse logistics organization? See for yourself at http://www.readyrating.org/.


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