Don't Get Burnt

How Organisations can plan and mitigate the risks of natural disasters, including wildfires by Supply Chain Expert, Rachel Lear.

With wildfires continuing to burn across Europe, tens of thousands of hectares of crops have been destroyed, impacting communities, businesses and supply chains. Last year wildfires across the US, droughts in South America and flooding in the UK disrupted the supply chains from chocolate to timber and eggs to mechanical goods. So, how do you determine if these fires will impact your organisation, and if so, what will the implications be? 

While wildfires devastate farmers and their crops and affect crop yield, their impact reaches much further. Procure4 Supply Chain Expert Rachael Lear explains the wider-reaching consequences. 

Wide Reaching Impact 

Wildfires create a lot of smoke, with a tendency to disrupt interstate/intercountry distribution routes. Smoke is unpredictable, and its reach is equally so. The smoke from wildfires can mean rerouting final logistics routes (often high-frequency shuttling replenishment), severely impacting sites that rely on JIT delivery processes. In Europe, many supermarkets can operate on vendor-managed inventory without back-end warehouses. Often, only several hours of perishable and high throughput materials are stocked, so shelves can quickly become empty. 

In some countries, the JIT processes that support final assembly manufacturing are finely tuned. Several vehicles continuously replenish to lineside direct from local suppliers/manufacturers during the day. Often these Kanban-managed systems are filled on 4-6 hour cycles, quickly interrupted if main motorways/highways become interrupted. If these essential goods impact products high up the value chain, such as motor vehicles, then the cost implications of stoppage will be high. 

However, the product doesn't just get disrupted; people do. Apart from the ability to get to work, there becomes a genuine need for people to prioritise personal safety and assurance, e.g., how resilient is their family network to the fire, which family members to support, who are in harm's way, where should I be? These questions mean employees may need to abandon work sites which may not be in the line of fire. 

While wildfires are just that, they can, and often do, spread to buildings and workplaces, causing greater devastation. Businesses can struggle to recover from a fire. It isn't just the initial loss of materials but also the replacement lead times. The lost technology means that the organisation can't be resilient to the length of time it takes to refurbish sites with the necessary technology/equipment. A compound effect of losing employees to a competitive marketplace can extend the time needed to return to fully reliable operations. In a report by Resilinc in 2021, supply chain disruptions were up 88% year on year. One of the three major causes, extreme weather events, was up 130% year on year: Planning enhanced resilience of your organisation and its assets to wildfire is an increasing focus. 

Impact Mitigation

While we cannot predict natural disasters, we can ensure mitigation measures are in place.

Employee safety and communication are the priority.  

  • Has your organisation considered how fires in various locations affect your working populations differently?  

  • Do you anticipate how your working populations will impact your organisation's safe working practices as employees leave to support their families and communities?  

  • Are employees on the road with your product part of your rapid communication network in the event of a wildfire crisis?  

  • Are you considering supporting your employees after a wildfire, and how does that need to link to operational continuity?   

Ensuring you have a clear view of supplier locations and constraints of their logistics routes into your organisation is essential.  

  • Are you considering how suppliers can quickly and effectively inform you if a wildfire encroaches or impacts their organisation?  

  • What contractual agreements have you established to ensure you are notified and can establish rapid recovery supply with your supply chain partners?  

  • Are you aware of where all of your suppliers are closely co-located? Suppose you do have a local concentration of suppliers.  

  • Should a wildfire overrun the entire local network of suppliers, do you have good parallel or alternative supply locations to be resilient? 

Rachael Lear explains that overall, Supply Chain Networks' organisational resilience to the initial side effects of fire, including; hazards to health and operations of smoke and reduced manpower, leading to safety issues and reduction in operations, is crucial. "Sometimes it only takes a small supplier in a supply chain network to be overcome, to make the network volatile, disrupted or failing. To be proactive; ensure mitigation is robust, measurable and tested." Bringing in supply chain specialists such as Procure4 can ensure your organisation's supply chains are tested and robust, resilient relationships are in place.

Talk to the Procure4 team today.  


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