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I write this column on the morning of April 23, less than 24 hours after Luzon was hit by an earthquake that shook both our structures and our fears. Is this the Big One? Is the Big One yet to come? Are we ready?

 

Sometimes it feels we aren’t, at least not fully. When the earthquake struck I was at my flat on the 23rd floor of a newly-built condominium, doing some work for our upcoming events. I wasn’t initially sure what to do. When it became clear the swaying wasn’t going to stop, I crawled under my table, breathing a sigh of relief that I fit underneath, for once. A few minutes later, I packed what I could pack and went down to the street below, where the building’s security team seemed to have little idea how to account for everybody inside the tower, or how to organize them (us) during the long wait to return to the building.

 

But it could be worse. A friend of mine was in a hotel where the fire exits were, inexplicably, locked. My girlfriend, on the other hand, was evacuated so orderly and so efficiently those from other buildings were amazed.

 

Not everybody would have hard hats, high-visibility vests and enough space to evacuate hundreds of people to, but it’s never a bad time to revisit those contingency plans. Are all of your personnel—both permanent hires and contractual ones—well versed in what to do in emergency cases? Do they know where to go and what to do? Are your team leaders able to take the lead? Do you have the right tools to facilitate the emergency processes?

 

Apart from the safety of your people, it’s also important to be able to go back up to speed, to resume operations quickly so as to lessen disruption. It’s not just about averting empty shelves, or to keep the company financially afloat, but also to ensure that all stakeholders in your supply chain —suppliers, employees, customers—are not affected in the long-term by a hiccup.

 

Are you facilities able to withstand any such disruption? Are the buildings that house your production facilities, or your inventory, built to standards, and beyond? Perhaps, if you’re expanding your capacity, you might want to consider seismic racking, which will definitely cost more—it’s reinforced materials tailored to your immediate geography and the land where your warehouse will sit—but should provide you more ease of mind.

 

Are your supply chain networks able to withstand such disruptions? How would you deal with impassable roads, say, or isolated towns? What if your suppliers become harder to reach in the face of calamity? Do you have other means of getting those products to you (or vice versa) as soon as possible? Unfortunately, many of these things are out of our control —we can be at the mercy of, say, whether authorities are able to repair roads quickly.

 

It’s always worth revisiting your business continuity plans, to reacquaint all stakeholders in what to do when disruptions arise, and to update these when needed. It would be best if these plans are integrated tightly with your company’s business or logistics plans. Ensure that the mindset of being aware of potential disruptions, and being able to go past them as soon as possible, is alive. We live in a country where there are always lingering reminders of the Big One coming right up – and I’m not just thinking of earthquakes, but also the next big supertyphoon, say, or the next political or social upheaval. We ought to be ready.

 

Oh, and while we’re at it, one more thing. While being evacuated after the tremors, I realized that we were all expected to wait it out in the middle of the road, surrounded by high-rise buildings that could collapse when an aftershock hits. We have not planned our cities and towns properly for these eventualities, and we should have, a long time ago. Take quake-prone Taipei, where building plans require proper evacuation areas before being approved. Perhaps we in supply chain should take the lead, be an example. Would local governments take the cue if we do just that, though?

 

Supply Chain Immersion: Registration is still open for this year’s Supply Chain Immersion, happening on May 17-19 and heading to Bacolod City. Fees are at P19,800 for SCMAP members and P23,800 for non-members, inclusive of all transportation, accommodations, seminars, tours and meals—but book now, because by May 6 these fees will go up thanks to airfare rates. Visit scmap.org to book.

 

Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.

 

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