Tsunamis in Japan. Flooding in Thailand. Before 2011, many of us went about our business, unaware of how intricately connected we are in international supply chains. But then, distant shocks caused ripple effects that rocked the entire world.
Such disasters expose the shortcoming of lean manufacturing—although efficient under regular operating conditions, scarcely stocked inventory leads to a greater dependence on a decentralized network and just-in-time delivery.
For the consumer, it’s easy to forget that our goods must travel a complex path as they come into existence and arrive at our local retailer. They, regrettably, don’t appear out of thin air, ready to be purchased the moment we feel the urge to buy them. It’s hard to imagine iPods out of reach because of a far-off shortage of lithium-ion batteries, but that’s the reality of this elaborately entangled ecosystem.
Multinational manufacturers, on the other hand, have a greater appreciation for frailty of the supply chain. Global giants like Honda, Apple, and Intel will tell you—in a split second, Mother Nature can shake even the most carefully crafted supply chain, putting any company’s operational prowess to the test. After the twin tragedies in Asia, economists don’t expect many industries to “return to normal” until 2013.
Still, safeguarding your supply chain and setting up emergency management protocols will lessen the blow if (or when) a natural disaster strikes. Even if you’re not a global giant—catastrophes can hit close to home, knocking out your niche. Just last year, a record number of disastrous tornadoes streaked across the American South.
So what can you do about it? It’s a difficult situation because in some respects there’s nothing you can do—weather will rage when it wants to. But here are some tips that will help you prepare ahead of time:
- Run best- and worst-case scenarios to test how your organization would handle emergency situations.
- Establish a crisis team that is responsible for making and communicating decisions throughout the supply chain.
- Diversify suppliers and transportation, which will allow for flexibly in times of disaster recovery.
- Maintain detailed processes and procedures and keep them up-to-date with the latest plans.
- Review suppliers’ disaster plans on a regular basis and align their plans with your operations.
- Monitor threats and trends in your country or region.
- Back-up all of your trade-related documents in electronic format and store records offsite.
You can’t control the whims of the Mother Nature, but you can set up supply chain strategies to handle shortages and market fluctuations. Many multinational manufacturers took a hit in 2011—how likely would their recovery have been without tactical and predetermined emergency management protocols? For proof that such protocols make post-disaster situations passable, look at the iPods and Accords all around us today.