Recent video footage from Hurricane Ian showcases the power and potential of extreme weather. Hurricanes are incredibly destructive. The collapse of several sections of the three mile Sanibel Island causeway illustrates hurricane damage and its impact on infrastructure and transportation.
Ian is a reminder that few events can disrupt a supply chain as quickly as a hurricane. For shippers, a sizeable storm threatens warehouse locations, transportation routes, and the safety of warehouse and transportation personnel. Proactive planning and prep are critical to weathering the stormy season.
Plan for Success
Tracking large tropical storms several days before they make landfall can help shippers re-route shipments and move products and goods away from a storm’s expected path. This can potentially mitigate the risk of a devastating hit to stock and operations.
In this case, shippers may find it necessary to establish temporary distribution centers away from a storm’s predicted path. Established carriers can offer multiple options, helping to provide the necessary infrastructure needed in alternate locations. Other solutions during a hurricane might include on-demand access to a carrier’s assets, such as trucks and trailers, or those of third-party partners, when access to one’s own resources isn’t a safe or viable option.
Understand a Carrier’s Flexibility
The flexibility a carrier can provide is somewhat dependent on its size and network. A large network is useful when there’s a need to immediately pivot away from trouble. A large carrier with network partners has more resources and can often move more quickly than its smaller counterparts. For example, agricultural crops can be jeopardized overnight. A carrier with a network of partners will have more resources to offer when answering the call for help.
Part of the planning process should also be an open conversation with the carrier about access to other freight solutions. If over-the-road conditions are compromised, what’s the backup plan? Is there access to an intermodal terminal that could help deliver the shipment? There could be nearby rail service that is free and can get goods moving without a significant delay. It’s critical to know your options before disaster strikes.
Develop a Communications Plan
Clear and timely communication between the shipper, carrier, drivers and warehouse personnel is critical to success before and immediately after a hurricane. Updates on weather conditions, road conditions and expected delays can save thousands of dollars per shipment.
In anticipation of hurricane season, shippers should develop a distribution list of key personnel who need to be apprised of route changes, delays, updates and delivery milestones. Having team visibility to potential challenges and opportunities for success helps keep personnel focused on the task at hand and everyone feels connected to the team.
Build a Contingency Fund
Knowing that hurricanes can impact your business at regular intervals, it’s important to establish a contingency fund for related costs. Some storms require alternate routes that are far longer and more costly than the usual routes. Others require the support of additional personnel. In addition, transportation rates often surge immediately after a storm as demand for emergency supplies in a concentrated area may skyrocket. And, depending on the load, losses may become inevitable as a result of later-than-expected delivery for perishable items.
All these factors can result in increased cost for goods delivered. In some instances, the cost is multiple times the typical or expected freight charge. That can unfortunately be the price of doing business in areas affected by hurricanes. Shippers that are active in areas where hurricanes or other natural disasters occur should set aside funds throughout the year to help smooth the financial impact on operations that results from extreme weather.