C’mon, Irene

Does it hurt to be prepared? Since we are in the supply chain business, the answer, of course, is “no.” But there is prepared, and then there is prepared . The Northeast is in prepared mode as Hurricane Irene starts its march up the East Coast.

In the interest of full disclosure, I live in New England, which is geographically weather-resistant. Until this year, we weren't bothered by earthquakes (that's the Left Coast's problem), tornadoes (Midwest), or, for the most part, hurricanes. By the time hurricanes hit the Northeast, they are usually a shadow of their former blustery selves.

In the past six months, we've dealt with all three of these natural occurrences.

We do get Nor'easters, nasty winter storms typified by lots of snow and high winds. They've been around since before Plimoth Plantation was settled, but I don't think they were really a problem (compared with, say, disease) until people began leaving their snug little cabins and commuting in cars to electric-powered office buildings.

The blizzard of '78 (which in Boston is always THE BLIZZARD OF ’78!!!) was a disaster. People abandoned cars after they got stuck on highways and ran out of gas. Power was out for weeks. Fireplaces, a standard feature in most snug little New England cabins, weren't stocked, or the user manuals were misplaced. (“I have to open what?! The flu?!”) As a result, the “hardy New England stock” has become a regionful of wimps who scurry to the store at the hint of a snowflake. (OK, not Maine — they still tough it out.)

Hurricane Irene has been topping the news cycle for days. It's not supposed to reach us until Sunday, but news coverage here began Monday. Here's how the supply chain here works: Shipments of milk, water, and maybe generators have been stepped up, although suppliers would be better served to ship them south. Supply will keep up with demand until Saturday, when procrastinators such as myself finally get to the grocery stores. After the storm passes, excess inventory will go on sale. And if electricity goes, a lot of stuff will spoil.

By the time I reach the store, milk and water will be completely gone. Generators (a winter thing) may or may not be in stock, although Christmas ornaments are already on display. (Thank goodness for that!) All I really need are matches, candles, and batteries. Boiled water? No problem. Paperback books? Check. Food? Eat it before it melts. We'll survive.

There have been several instances over the past few years when people in the Western US have mocked us for overreacting to some kind of weather-related event. The state of Massachusetts once shut down under predictions of a Nor'easter that never happened, and my editor-in-chief at the time in California wanted to declare a heightened UV day as an excuse to shut down the offices there. A colleague in Phoenix recently bemoaned that the recent dust storm occurred too late to be of any use — it hit around 5 p.m. in Arizona. As for this week's earthquake, California's having a well deserved laugh at our expense.

I know this stuff can be serious business. Japan and Katrina are not forgotten. These are two examples where being prepared could have mitigated damage, although I don't know what you can do to prepare for the type of disaster we saw this year in Japan. Were it to happen on the East Coast, evacuating Boston would be a ridiculous idea. Our highway system can't handle commuting traffic, and I believe the same is true for a lot of coastal cities. That doesn't mean you don't try, though.

The point is that just-in-time doesn't work in this case. That system depends on the synchronization of transit systems (which have already been disrupted as airports begin to close) and having the right mix of inventory in the right places. Railways are shutting down, and trucking takes too long for the perishables, but we do have those Christmas ornaments (and, now that I think about it, Halloween candy). So having a little extra inventory on hand makes sense, much as the electronics industry learned after the quake in Japan. Sure, it's an expense. But it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

I'm hitting the store today. C'mon, Irene.

24 comments on “C’mon, Irene

  1. Tim Votapka
    August 26, 2011

    This hurricane has already caused some distractions within the ranks of many companies and it hasn't even made landfall yet. I suspect there will be disruptions to corporate travel, shipping and logistics, yet let's ask the entreprenuerial distributors and reps if they see this as an opportunity to step ahead the 10-foot line. I remember covering major storms back a few years ago and I often heard from many of the smaller, speciality distributors who braved the elements to get a prototype or sample or even a tube or rail out to a customer because the other, bigger distributor had been in a lock down or jam of their own.

  2. Nemos
    August 26, 2011

    “So having a little extra inventory on hand makes sense” In addition I think it is a good idea to start building our houses more independently from the national network(such as electricity,gas,etc)for example why not to have a generator in case of emergency  The cost for it isn't too much.

  3. prabhakar_deosthali
    August 27, 2011

    It is natural for the storms to disrupt the suplly chains as they will disrupt the backbone of the supply chain which is transport of all kinds.

    The precautionary measures in such natural disasters will naturally be on saving lives and keep necessay food stocks for people to meet their daily needs.


    sometimes in the anticipatory action there is a tendency to hoard the things which creates an artifical scarcity and the real needy suffer in such circumstances.




  4. Taimoor Zubar
    August 27, 2011

    I think a lot of hype has already been created about Irene, even amongst people who are thousands of mile away from the US :). That just shows you the power of internet to connect people.

    On a serious note, are there any chances of electronic supply chain getting affected if there's severe destruction because of the hurricane? Does the region fall under the area where electronic manufacturers or distributors have setups?

  5. eemom
    August 28, 2011

    From everything I read so far, the damage seems to be minimal compared to what might have been.  The most affected so far are the coastal cities across eastern US, which is of-course expected. 

    That being said, I live in NJ on the very western edge, very far away from the coast.  We got the predicted wind and several inches of rain.  We have power – Yay! However, I do live very close to the Delaware river which is expected to crest to 33 feet by tomorrow morning. Who knows if we've seen the worst of Irene's effect.

  6. mario8a
    August 28, 2011

    Barbara, just by reading this article you can start thinking about getting better prepare, I wish the best luck and hopefully the expected damages are only material.

    in regards to Supply Chain we have some cable supliers on that area that already closed their factory and they protected their inventory based on their recovery disaster plan.

    Some I want to mention here, is that I've been reading some articles about Japan and when they lost electricity they walk out of the store empty hand waiting until energy was restored, I don't remember the amount of money that has been returned to the families found on the wallets of missing people.


    Hope for the best, plan for the worst.


  7. Ms. Daisy
    August 28, 2011

    @prabhakar_deosthali: Your conclusion “sometimes in the anticipatory action there is a tendency to hoard the things which creates an artifical scarcity and the real needy suffer in such circumstances” surely summarizes the consequences of the media information overload.

    I understand the key responsibilty of the media to share information, but like everything in the US, the news coverage is often done with a lot of hysteria. Unfortunately this turns the populace into hypervigilant and extremely terrified zombies, instead of an informative medium.

  8. stochastic excursion
    August 28, 2011

    I heard trees blocking roads in greater New York area, and flooded basement woes.  There are dusk to dawn curfews in effect as well.

  9. Daniel
    August 29, 2011

    Disaster can cause its own disturbance in any supply chains. If it’s by any of the natural calamity, the after effects are unpredictable. In most of the cases, we may prepare to face such situations either by using alternate sources or by backing up with excess quantities. I think now citizens in US are well aware about heavy rains and storms, so they used to take care about such things in advance.

  10. Ariella
    August 29, 2011

    I live right next to the neighborhoods that were ordered to evacuate, particulalry those on barrier islands and those near the shore. Technically, we were told to evacuate, as well. But we didn't. We're a good mile in  from the shore here.  I avoided a flood in the basement by putting towels under  the door where water tends to seep in during heavy rain. Nothing really happened here, though one tree fell down a block away. Power went out for a second in the night, and that was it. But because people had been anticipating much worse, nearly all the local stores were closed on Sunday, despite the fact that the roads around them were clear and the electricity was on.

    August 29, 2011

    I have heard so many times that weather today has undergone a significant change.  Now there are those scientists that say it is all explainable and does not constitute a new shift but where I live it definitely is warmer and wetter.  Thankfully we have never seen major quakes or twisters etc. but we never see a continuous spell of decent weather for more than a few days at a time.  We seem to be permanently stuck in (comparatively) warm, wet, goo.  On the very rare occasion we do get snow the whole transport and supply infrastructure collapses into one huge mess.  It is scary how fragile our existence is and yet how blissfully ignorant we are of it.

  12. Tim Votapka
    August 29, 2011

    Irene came in. Tossed a few trees around and tore down some lines and made a general mess of routines before heading on out. The worst of it afterward, no power in some areas and that means some confusion at several major intersections. So if anyone's running prototype samples around for customers, take care.

  13. Himanshugupta
    August 29, 2011

    I was thinking: Didn't we love hurricanes, storm, other natural disasters when we were kids…it meant no more school and all the time to play. Although i do not want anyone to get hurt (literally) but such things do give us some talking points or even nice stories to share. 

  14. Barbara Jorgensen
    August 29, 2011

    I think my lack of panic angered the lady…she hit our area hard. We just got cable, Internet and phones back…power came back on late last night. She also took down a big tree in our backyard–didn't hit anything or anyone, thank goodness. We were also spared the flooding.

    Good news on the supply chain, though–stores were well-stocked, and in spite of the hurricane, a massive delivery I was expecting arrived on-time! Kudos to transit gods.

    Free firewood for anyone that owns a chain saw…

  15. Mr. Roques
    August 30, 2011

    Is there a lesson in all of this? It'd be interesting to read a little about how stores handled the store. THey needed to get ready for a MUCH higher demand for some supplies – water, batteries, etc. and maybe slow demand for perishable goods.

    Also, and although it wasn't as bad, how relief efforts are being handled. 

  16. JADEN
    August 30, 2011

    Hurricane Irene is over, along with all the hype and speculation stirred up, it's going to make this year worse even tougher for some Insurance companies because of the damage done.

  17. Anne
    August 30, 2011

    Definitely, Insurance claims will explode over the next few weeks as people return to their homes after the storm.

  18. mario8a
    August 30, 2011

    @ Barbara Glad to read it was a tree and not a building.


    One question, did the stores rised the prices on water, milk, or batteries?



  19. electronics862
    August 30, 2011

    Everybody know that hurricane irene ON but still 18 members lost their life. Still we need to come up with better ways to save people life by evacuating as earlier as possible. As few of these does not have transportation facilites or money to move away from their residing areas government should try to help them in moving them safe places.

  20. Ashu001
    August 31, 2011


    Its good to hear that damage was'nt that extensive.

    Do you think it was the result of people being more cautious than usual?[Better be prepared than sorry]



  21. Ashu001
    August 31, 2011


    Uncertainty is rising globally sharply.

    Its always a good sign to keep enough stocked Groceries to last u for atleast 1 week.There is no saying when what happens that results in stoppage of an integrated supply chain somewhere.



  22. Barbara Jorgensen
    August 31, 2011

    Hi all–a couple of answers to questions:

    There are some news reports that the greater NY area was too prepared–overhyped–yet people lost their lives during the hurricane.

    Prices on batteries and sundries did increase.

    In spite of the hype, there were areas unprepared and they got hit pretty bad. Connecticut and Vermont were not supposed to feel a big impact yet parts of VT that never flood are under water, as is part of Connecticut.

    When it comes to flooding, there is very little one can do unless they live right on the coast. There was some coastal flooding but people evacuated, but the inland flooding was unexpected.

    Again, I'm not sure what we can do to cover all the contingencies. I also have to say that some of the response to the preparations were clearly CYA on the part of politicians. They did not want to get hammered like the post-Katrina folks so they went into overdrive. If an election wasn't coming up, I doubt you'd see the politicos quite as much.

  23. Ariella
    August 31, 2011

    Hi, Ashish,

    In New York, I think people erred more on the side of caution as the mayor and other political leaders urged them to do. There were 4 deaths in the state, which I suppose would be considered quite a low number for such a situation. At least one person was electrocuted by coming in contact with a wire that had come down. That could happen even in other storms. Though we were pretty clear of the shore in my neighborhood, I saw that houses near the water must have had soem of the effect or water surges. So I'm sure there was some damage to homes, in addition to the problems caused by downed trees. But we had a storm last year that caused more damage in our area — including pulling some capping off our house. That one had a lot less fanfare because it didn't carry the name of a hurricane when it struck New York.

  24. Tim Votapka
    September 6, 2011

    I can vouch for the remarkable flooding in New England, particularly along the Connecticut River on up toward the Canadian border. Days after Irene rolled through, the major rivers were overbank and every fresh water body was brown with silt. Several reports of washed out roads and flooded main streets. Gave me an appreciation for anyone in field sales or service.

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