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How supply chain experts plan to stay ahead of 2023’s extreme weather

How supply chain experts plan to stay ahead of 2023’s extreme weather

As 2023 starts its gradual shift into the second half of the year, predictions from climate scientists and meteorological experts paint a sobering picture: extreme weather events are expected to intensify in the coming months. After a relatively tame year in terms of weather-related disasters in 2023, shippers and logistics providers in the supply chain industry are bracing themselves for yet another year of record-setting destructive hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and other weather-related challenges that threaten to disrupt global trade and supply networks.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the frequency of extreme weather events has increased by more than 30% since the mid-20th century. And after a “near normal” 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, the 2023 season is projected to be particularly active, with an estimated 11-15 named storms, between six and eight of which will grow strong enough to become hurricanes — including up to three that could cause widespread destruction. The Pacific region is also anticipated to witness a rise in tropical cyclone activity, while droughts and wildfires are expected to afflict several regions with as much as 8.2 million acres of forest predicted to be lost to fire this year (compared to 7.5 million in 2022), affecting critical transportation routes and causing logistical bottlenecks. These statistics underscore the urgency for supply chain experts to take preemptive measures to safeguard their operations against the impending storm.

Imagine a scenario where a global e-commerce giant — let’s call them SwiftMart — faces the brunt of an impending hurricane. One of their key suppliers, a manufacturer of electronics components, operates from a coastal area that falls directly in the hurricane’s path. As the storm approaches, their supplier is forced to halt production and evacuate their facility, causing an immediate disruption in the supply of vital components to SwiftMart’s distribution center.

At the same time, SwiftMart’s distribution center, located in a nearby coastal region, braces for the impact of the hurricane. The facility is responsible for processing and fulfilling thousands of customer orders every day. However, the approaching storm forces them to make the difficult decision to temporarily suspend operations, evacuate the distribution center, and ensure that their staff is out of harm’s way.

Once the hurricane passes, the aftermath poses significant hurdles for SwiftMart’s supply chain operations. The region’s infrastructure has suffered extensive damage, with roads washed away and power lines downed. The distribution center, although spared from severe damage, faces delays in resuming operations due to limited access, disrupted transportation routes, and the need for safety inspections. Meanwhile, SwiftMart’s last-mile carrier, upon whom they heavily depend for timely deliveries, grapples with their own set of challenges.

The combination of these challenges creates a domino effect throughout SwiftMart’s supply chain. With their supplier incapacitated, the lack of essential components halts the production of electronic devices. The distribution center’s delayed reopening disrupts order fulfillment, causing a backlog of customer orders and mounting frustration. Customers eagerly awaiting their packages are left disappointed and dissatisfied as delivery times are prolonged due to the last-mile carrier’s struggle to navigate the post-hurricane landscape.

To navigate these stormy waters and lessen the impact of extreme weather events like the one illustrated above, it’s vital to have robust strategies in place long before disaster strikes. 

And luckily, industry experts like those at SwiftMart have those in place.

From contingency plans outlining alternative distribution routes and backup suppliers, to collaboration with carriers, technology solutions, and route optimization, these are the steps that transportation managers like those at our hypothetical SwiftMart take to fortify operations and deliver goods to customers’ doorsteps, even when nature unleashes its fury. 

1. Focus on advance planning

By conducting a risk assessment, SwiftMart is able to identify that their key supplier operates in a hurricane-prone coastal area and develops a contingency plan that includes pre-approved alternative suppliers located in safer regions. This way, when the hurricane strikes, SwiftMart is able to seamlessly transition their orders to these backup suppliers, ensuring a continuous supply of components and avoiding production disruptions.

For any business operating in an area that’s regularly hit by extreme weather — whether that’s hurricanes in Florida, wildfires in California, or lake-effect snow in New York — companies must conduct this kind of comprehensive risk assessment specific to their supply chains. By identifying vulnerable areas they can understand the potential impact on suppliers, distribution centers, and transportation routes. This knowledge serves as the foundation for developing detailed contingency plans that outline alternative sourcing options, backup suppliers, and adaptable logistics strategies to ensure business continuity during disruptions.

2. Establish strong relationships

By establishing strong relationships with the carriers, suppliers, and manufacturers that they depend on, SwiftMart is able to quickly assess the impact on their operations and anticipate potential disruptions. This knowledge helps SwiftMart strategize alternative sourcing options, activate backup options, and adjust production plans accordingly. By maintaining strong relationships, SwiftMart can work together with their suppliers and manufacturers to minimize the impact on their supply chain and meet customer demands, or with their carriers to identify alternative routes and prioritize critical deliveries, ensuring that essential goods reach customers in the affected areas promptly. 

Strong partnerships like these are crucial for businesses before, during, and after extreme weather events. Prior to such events, these partnerships help in building resilience by allowing businesses to assess suppliers’ geographical vulnerabilities, understand their disaster preparedness plans, and develop effective contingency strategies. During a storm, strong partnerships enable businesses to navigate disruptions by quickly assessing the impact on partners, activating backup plans, and adjusting strategies. And after the extreme weather event subsides, strong partnerships facilitate a swift recovery by coordinating efforts, resuming operations, and prioritizing critical needs, placing a business in a better position to manage challenges and ensure continuity of operations, customer satisfaction, and overall resilience.

3. Leverage technology

By implementing advanced transportation management systems (TMS) and real-time visibility and tracking technology in their supply chain operations, SwiftMart gains instant insight into road and weather conditions, allowing them to make informed decisions and adjust routing to avoid affected areas. Additionally, by utilizing sophisticated software systems for demand forecasting and inventory optimization, SwiftMart can proactively adjust inventory levels to meet customer needs during and after the event, while cloud-based platforms and digital communication tools enable seamless collaboration and information sharing with suppliers, carriers, and other stakeholders, facilitating the implementation of contingency plans and ensuring coordinated efforts. By leveraging technology, SwiftMart is able to enhance their resilience, minimize disruptions, and maintain customer satisfaction, ultimately ensure the smooth flow of goods even in the face of adverse weather conditions.

In an era of increasing extreme weather, technology provides businesses with the tools and capabilities to anticipate, adapt, and respond effectively to the challenges it brings. Advanced forecasting models, real-time monitoring systems, and data analytics enable businesses to gain valuable insights into weather patterns, anticipate potential disruptions, and make informed decisions. By harnessing technology, businesses can enhance their resilience, minimize downtime, maintain customer satisfaction, and ultimately stay ahead of disruptions caused by extreme weather events.

4. Pre-position supplies

SwiftMart is able to enhance their ability to manage supply chain operations in the face of a hurricane by strategically pre-positioning inventory and assets in areas that are less at risk of being impacted by the hurricane. This allows them to maintain a consistent supply of goods to meet customer demand in the area outside of the hurricane zone even when the storm hits, while also enabling them to quickly resume operations once the storm subsides, ensuring a swift recovery and minimizing downtime. This proactive approach, supported by real-time monitoring and advanced analytics, empowers SwiftMart to make informed decisions regarding distribution routes, adjust inventory levels accordingly, and prioritize the safety of personnel and assets. 

Similarly, other businesses can adopt similar strategies to bolster their supply chain resilience in the face of a hurricane or other natural disasters. They can identify alternative storage facilities in safer regions and establish relationships with local suppliers or manufacturers to ensure continuity of supply. Leveraging technology tools such as advanced analytics and real-time monitoring systems can provide valuable insights and enable proactive decision-making. By diversifying their supply chain and pre-positioning inventory strategically, businesses place themselves in a better position to navigate the challenges posed by extreme weather events and safeguard their operations while maintaining customer satisfaction.

5. Put safety first

When it comes to keeping a supply chain on track during extreme weather events, SwiftMart knows that safety always comes first. That’s why they’ve established clear protocols and communication channels to keep employees informed about potential risks and evacuation procedures. Staff is also well set up to proactively monitor weather conditions and collaborate with transportation partners to make timely decisions regarding route adjustments or temporary suspensions to safeguard the well-being of drivers and delivery personnel. By emphasizing the safety of their employees and partners, SwiftMart is able to create a culture of preparedness and resilience, enabling them to navigate the challenges of a hurricane while prioritizing human lives.

A critical aspect of advance planning is prioritizing the safety and well-being of employees. Any business — and especially those operating in an area that is known to be affected by extreme weather — should establish comprehensive protocols and training on how they aim to protect their workforce while minimizing disruption to their supply chain. By ensuring that everyone involved is informed and prepared on the steps to take in preventing disruption caused by disaster, they minimize the risk of injuries and create a supportive environment that fosters employee trust and resilience, further enhancing employee preparedness and response capabilities.

What’s next?

As 2023 progresses and the specter of more frequent and intense extreme weather events looms, businesses must be proactive in preparing for the challenges ahead. By focusing on advance planning, strong partnerships, technology integration, strategic pre-positioning, and prioritizing safety, it’s possible to maintain continuity, meet customer demands, and navigate disruptions, even in the face of nature’s wrath.

The lessons learned from SwiftMart’s hypothetical scenario highlight the importance of being prepared and flexible during extreme weather. By conducting risk assessments and developing comprehensive contingency plans, businesses can identify vulnerable areas and implement alternative sourcing options to mitigate the impact of extreme weather events. Building strong partnerships with suppliers, carriers, and manufacturers enables collaboration and swift response during disruptions, ensuring the smooth flow of goods and services. Leveraging technology provides real-time insights into weather and road conditions, enabling informed decision-making and effective adjustments in routing and inventory management. And of course, placing a strong emphasis on the safety and preparedness of employees and partners creates a culture of resilience, safeguarding lives while minimizing disruption.

As we move into the second half of 2023, businesses must recognize the urgency of taking preemptive action to fortify their supply chain operations. Proactive strategies and a focus on resilience will enable businesses to navigate disruptions, maintain customer satisfaction, and emerge stronger in the face of adversity. By being prepared, adaptable, and committed to the well-being of their employees and partners, businesses can rise above the storm and ensure a steady course even in the most turbulent times.

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