As I write this, there’s two feet of snow on the ground here in suburban Chicago, with potentially more on the way. We’re coming off a stretch of about two-and-a-half weeks where the temperature rarely broke double digits, and most nights it dropped well below zero even before the wind chill. We haven’t lost power.
Meanwhile, in Texas, millions of customers across the state are without power as the state is being slammed with winter storms, and it’s turning into a deadly situation.
Let me be clear: This has nothing to do with comparing the respective merits of either state, and certainly nothing to do with politics. But what it does have to do with is the difference between being prepared for everything and being prepared for most things.
See, a few years back we did lose power here for about a week. A summer storm rolled through with some pretty serious straight-line winds, and a huge chunk of suburban Chicago was without power for at least a few days. We faced many of the challenges people in Texas are facing right now, but we had the benefit of not facing deadly cold on top of them.
But in the aftermath, the power infrastructure was rebuilt and has been remarkably reliable. We’ve had multiple polar vortex winters since then, and thankfully we have not had any issues with electricity or heat.
There is an understandable logic to Texas not winterizing its power grid, given that the state usually doesn’t have to deal with severe or sustained winter weather. But given the ongoing effects of climate change and the difficulty of stating with certainty what weather can and can’t happen in a given area, saying “we don’t have to worry about that” is an increasingly risky proposition.
What does this have to do with food and beverage manufacturing? Simply this: How many times over the last year have you found yourself saying “oh, we do have to worry about that”?
The ongoing pandemic has hit food and beverage processors in a lot of different ways, and many of them have learned the hard way where their weak spots were. This is an industry that rightfully prides itself on being prepared to perform even in the worst case, but most of the time the worst case doesn’t present itself. When it does, we find out in a hurry who had a plan—and who was actually prepared.
Plans are great and necessary, of course. But preparation involves taking a plan and stress-testing it in every imaginable way to see where it breaks down and how those breakdowns can be avoided in a real-life situation. It means putting aside feelings and egos and being honest about what will work, what won’t work, and where you need to build in redundancy. It means acknowledging that you have blind spots based on previous experiences and finding ways to ask yourself what the worst-case scenario truly is and how you will respond to it.
Plans are great. Preparation is essential. Which do you have available to you when something goes wrong?