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Supply chains are the backbone of virtually all industries, but they’re prone to disruption. Transporting goods or parts across states or even nations introduces many hazards that could cause delays or losses. Extreme weather is one of the most pressing of these dangers.
Hurricanes, wildfires, snowstorms and other extreme weather events can create traffic, cause road closures and endanger drivers. As climate change worsens, these emergencies could become more common, too. The United Nations predicts that climate change will cause $2 trillion in losses by 2030.
In light of these risks, companies must ensure their supply chains are ready for extreme weather. Here are a few ways executives can plan for these events.
Move High-Value Inventory From High-Risk Areas
Most people are probably familiar with the adage that prevention is better than a cure. While businesses can’t control the weather, they can minimize their chances of encountering an extreme weather event.
No matter where warehouses are, they’ll experience some inclement weather, but some areas are more prone to disaster than others. For example, California experienced 10,341 of the 58,362 wildfires in 2020, far more than any other state. If possible, moving high-value inventory out of such high-risk areas can mitigate damages from extreme weather.
Supply chains should review the warehouses that house their most critical inventory and what risks their surrounding areas pose. If they hold much of this inventory in areas with high fire, flooding or hurricane risk, they should consider moving it. No area is risk-free, but some places will be safer than others.
Track All Vehicles
Many supply chains have implemented real-time tracking systems for efficiency, which can serve as useful emergency response systems, too. Real-time location tracking can reveal which drivers may be in harm’s way when inclement weather develops. Supply chain managers can then adjust their routes as necessary to keep them safe.
Similarly, if drivers can’t avoid a storm, supply chain managers can use their location to route them to any nearby shelter. If conditions interfere with signals and block communication, supply chain managers will still have data on drivers’ last known location. They can then help emergency responders look for and find them, if necessary.
If the weather doesn’t pose a hazard but will limit efficiency, these systems are still helpful. Supply chain managers can see when a shipment may be delayed and respond sooner, either shipping from another location or notifying the client.
One of the most common extreme weather events supply chains face is snowstorms. More than 70% of U.S. roads are in snowy regions, with some areas seeing as much as 100 inches of snow annually. Considering how relevant the threat of heavy snow is, supply chains should winterize their trucks in colder months to prevent breakdowns.
New wiper blades can help improve visibility in a snowstorm, letting drivers navigate safely. Supply chains should also fit trucks with snow tires or chains to prevent them from slipping on icy roads. Even if a driver may not encounter snow, treating their fuel and other fluids with anti-icing solutions is crucial if they’ll drive through sub-zero regions.
Drivers should also carry spray lubricants. If anything freezes, they can use this to defrost and free it.
Establish an Early Warning System
As with all emergencies, extreme weather responses are more effective the earlier they start. If supply chains can recognize incoming weather emergencies early, they can better ensure safety and efficiency. To set up an early warning system, organizations can take advantage of weather analytics.
Weather analytics tools study a broad range of historical and present weather data to predict future conditions. Some of these systems can provide forecasts up to 90 days in advance, adjusting as new data becomes available. With these analytics, supply chains can establish a warning to alert drivers and managers to developing storms, letting them reroute and otherwise prepare in advance.
Equip Drivers for Emergencies
Ideally, a supply chain’s other preparedness steps will ensure drivers never encounter an emergency. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic, as extreme weather events can come unexpectedly, even with the most advanced analytics and warnings. As such, all drivers should carry emergency supplies should extreme weather leave them stranded.
No matter what situation drivers find themselves in, they’ll need food. Emergency kits should include roughly 6,000 calories of non-perishable food, which should last three days. A similar amount of clean water and something to purify water with are also essential.
Drivers in cold areas should also carry warm blankets and waterproof gloves. Other necessities include basic tools, first aid supplies, road flares and a backup radio in case the truck’s radio loses function.
Supply Facilities With Backup Power Sources
Trucks and drivers aren’t the only parts of the supply chain that extreme weather could endanger. Facilities like warehouses and control centers could also encounter extreme conditions requiring appropriate preparation. No matter what specific emergencies a facility could encounter, it should have a backup power source.
Utility lines are often some of the first infrastructure to go in a storm. Hurricane Sandy, for example, caused 10 million people across 24 states to lose power. While today’s grids are more resilient than in the past, facilities can’t afford to risk it, so they should have backup generators.
In addition to installing generators, facilities should ensure they keep extra fuel and coolant on hand. Workers should also inspect these machines regularly to ensure they’re in working condition.
Finally, supply chains should ensure flexibility by having multiple sources for critical inventory. Single sourcing may be more efficient and affordable, but a diversified supply chain is more resilient in emergencies. One study found that diversity accounts for more than 90% of how extreme and frequent supply chain shocks are in an area.
When supply chains rely on a single source or route, any disruption to that area will have rippling effects. Conversely, having diversified sources means that localized emergencies will have a far smaller overall impact. Diversification mitigates emergencies while giving supply chains more flexibility.
Emergency Preparedness Is Crucial for Supply Chains
Weather emergencies are something every supply chain will have to contend with sooner or later. While companies may not be able to prevent these events, they can and should prepare for them.
These steps will help supply chains become more resilient in the face of extreme weather. Thorough preparation may cause initial disruptions and come with some expenses, but maintaining efficiency and keeping workers safe will make up for it. As these events become more common, preparedness becomes all the more crucial.
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