Logistics lessons from hurricanes and 'Game of Thrones'
In both everyday operations and crisis situations, logistics offer a series of challenges
Hurricane Harvey and “Game of Thrones” may not have a whole lot in common, but they have me thinking about logistics.
It started with a Facebook post I made about how if people wanted to help out with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, the best thing they can do is send money. Collecting material goods to send may help you feel better, but the odds are really good that they’ll either go to waste or that the hassle of sorting, storing and distributing them will outweigh the benefit.
When a friend of mine asked whether this was really the case, it led to an interesting discussion about the challenges of moving stuff during disaster relief efforts. As I put it: “Walmart can move material on a scale that most people can’t even comprehend. Let them do it.”
And it’s true. Walmart — and other big retailers with crisis response teams — can mobilize goods to disaster-stricken areas in a way that has to be seen to be believed. They can do so because the logistics of simply getting their merchandise into stores nationwide means they practice getting material from Point A to Point B by Deadline C every single day.
Later that night, I was watching “Game of Thrones,” and another aspect of logistics came to mind. For those of you who don’t watch the show, basically there are a bunch of armies that need to be in a specific place, and they need to be there quickly. Which means moving a whole bunch of people in a universe where the only way armies get anywhere is by marching or, in some cases, riding horses.
What does all this have to do with food manufacturing? Everything. Many of you may be affected by Hurricane Harvey or have been by other natural disasters, either through having to figure out new ways to get material or by facing staffing challenges when a disaster hits the area. Your plant may be up and running thanks to generators or other backup plans, but what if the interstate that most of your employees take to work is flooded? What if their house has six inches of water in it and they have to go to a hotel that’s 20 miles away because everything that’s closer is either out of commission or booked up?
Supply chains are, in the best of circumstances, complicated and delicate. A delay or stoppage at one point in the chain has a cascading effect that may mean you suddenly find yourself missing a critical ingredient for your signature product. Staffing is complicated and delicate as well. No company in their right mind would carry extra production personnel on the payroll just in case something happens, but when something does happen, it’s critical to have a plan for getting people to work if possible.
You can’t plan for every possibility, but you can certainly plan for how to handle disruptions in either your supply chain or your staffing. If you don’t, you run the risk of finding yourself on the back foot when a minor disruption happens, much less a major one.