Disaster Alerts Set to Save Supply Chains

Businesses were mandated to install fire alarms decades ago to mitigate property damage. Mandated wireless sensor network alarm systems might offer similar benefits for the supply chain in the event of a universal natural disaster.

Japan has some of the most advanced early warning systems for natural disasters in the world. Bullet trains, for example, continuously monitor seismic or other unusual activity that indicates risk. Data from wireless sensor systems is processed by real-time analytics software that automatically shuts down the trains prior to an earthquake, according to a report by Information Week.

Early warning systems track any deviation from the expected norm and broadcast their occurrence to the at-risk party. Tsunami early warning systems, for example, have a sensor on the ocean floor, which measures wave height and pressure at intervals of 15 seconds and transmits, via an acoustic modem, the readings to a buoy floating on the ocean surface, according to a report by Emergency Management. When the system records a deviation, it broadcasts a warning to subscribers.

In addition, low-orbit satellites and sensors are significantly improving diverse weather forecasts. Infrared and microwave sensors with the satellites collect granular data of temperatures, pressures, and moisture in every corner of the earth at shorter intervals. These sensors can also penetrate clouds or any other natural obstruction like a mountain. The data is fed into forecasting models that improve in accuracy with the richer data. The early warnings can also be relayed sooner so that subscribers will have more time to respond, a Scientific American report said.

The overwhelming volumes of data, if unmanaged, might crash the average network. However, data analytics tools for querying streams of data, such as one offered by SQLstream, can parse the data to look for anomalies without storing the data anywhere. These analytics tools filter the relevant data with a query and discard the rest.

The issues of financing early warning programs are illustrated by the experience of one California program for earthquakes. A test version of the program recently alerted Caltech scientists, who are the architects of the program, to an earthquake in Anza, Calif., according to a report by the Los Angeles Times. The pilot program is funded by the Gordon and Betty More Foundation. For placing sensors across the state, the program will need an additional $80 million in funding. It is hard to imagine that nationwide and worldwide programs for sensor data will be possible without paid commercial services.

In today's budget-conscious world, most organizations will put investments in this type of system low on the priority list, even as these systems get more effective and less expensive. Long intervals between natural disasters lull people into believing that they won't happen again. In the end, mandatory purchase of early warning alerts may be the only way to achieve broad adoption.

37 comments on “Disaster Alerts Set to Save Supply Chains

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    July 24, 2013

    Early warning systems are good to give timely alerts to the interested parties to minimize the possible damage from the ensuing calamity.

    But just installing such systems won't help. It has to be supported by the appropriate action plan which has been well rehearsed and a regular mock-drill need to be performed to keep everyone involved in a well-prepared status.

    So if a Tsunami warning is received say 2 hours in advance then we should have a plan as to what can be saved in those two hours and how it is to be saved.

    Now this is an additional continuous cost burden that has to be taken into account while installing a suitable EWS for one's business.




  2. syedzunair
    July 24, 2013


    Having worked in a region prone to floods and Tsunami warnings I would say you are spot on. The systems only will not matter unless you train the people in the art of evacuating as quickly as possible. We used to have unannounced warnings, the alarms used to ring and we monitored the time for the employees to evacuate completely. 

  3. Houngbo_Hospice
    July 24, 2013


    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Disaster drill alerts can help people be aware of what to do when an actual disaster occurs. It does take resources to conduct such drills as businesses and companies will have to stop working for a while. But I think such trainings are necessary because When an emergency occurs people always revert to the manner in which they have been trained.

  4. Houngbo_Hospice
    July 24, 2013


    “Now this is an additional continuous cost burden that has to be taken into account while installing a suitable EWS for one's business.”

    Unfortunately many companies in developing countries don't care that much about worker's security and they usually don't want to spend money on any suitable disaster alert systems.

  5. Kishore Jethanandani
    July 24, 2013

    @Prabhakar: All good points about training of staff to respond to alerts about natural disasters.


    Compared to the general public, supply chain managers are much more aware about the impact of natural disasters. Companies like Walmart have dedicated departments manageing natural disasters.


    To my mind, this seems more a problem of articulating the value proposition of aggregating data, its analysis and enrolling subscribers who will pay for the service. For some reason, the business opportunity staring in the face of consulting companies has eluded them. 

  6. Kishore Jethanandani
    July 24, 2013

    @Syed: I will be curious to know what were the sources of alerts you received in your environment, how effective were they in the warnings, did it improve business results for your company?

  7. Anand
    July 24, 2013

     Yes, disaster management is necessary in today's world, and this proves useful in saving a company. Although disaster management is costly, the output it gives is far more than what was spent to install a quake-sensor gadget. A timely placed 3 million dollar sensor can save a storage factory in a fault-line worth a hundred million.

  8. Anand
    July 24, 2013

    This high tech disaster management is only available to large companies which
    have a high rate of money influx. But what will small companies do, who cannot afford a disaster management system? If they would want such a system, they would have to become a subsidiary of a large company, thus losing their independent status. Thus, they resort to locally available logistics and hope for the best. Nobody anticipated the 2004  tsunami because most industries along that line believed in local logistics and analysts rather than global satellites. But even more than that they were not given enough time to move away.

  9. ahdand
    July 24, 2013

    @anandy: Yes it's a good option to have something like an alert before or on the time of a disaster but how the functionality should work is unknown. Anyway would love to know if there is anyone who can suggest it.

  10. Anand
    July 24, 2013

     but how the functionality should work is unknown

    @nimantha.d. I dont think there is single solution for this. I think we need to tap into different services to give such alerts so that it reaches most of the people.

  11. Anand
    July 24, 2013

    Government affiliated industries do not suffer that much as independent
    industries do. When such an industry crashes down, the government issues funds, enough to make an operational recovery. Although independent industries can request funds as well, they are given less attention to, unless they are a market leader.

  12. Kishore Jethanandani
    July 25, 2013

    @Nimantha: A service like this is best providedby a SaaS company since many different sources of data will have to be put together. A noSQL type of querying will help to cull out the useful information and cloud based distribution of alerts to mobile devices of supply chain managers is how it will get to the end-users. I suspect that a service like this will be available if supply chain managers ask for it.

  13. syedzunair
    July 25, 2013


    You are welcome! 

    If you weigh the cost of a life to stoppage of work for a few mintues once in a month. I would always value life. I think so do the employers. 

  14. syedzunair
    July 25, 2013


    We live in a pretty non-automated world back here. The primary focus is on production only. So, the alerts are not electronic they are manual, written notices from the authorities about disasters. Or emails to head of security in the firm. Since, the compound that we have our factory is in an Export Processing Zone everything is governed by the authorities. At times they see the met office survey and close production before hand just to be safe. The entire zone has almost 250,000 + workers on a given day. Evacuation is not something that can be done easily. 

  15. Taimoor Zubar
    July 25, 2013

    “But what will small companies do, who cannot afford a disaster management system?”

    @anandvy: I think that's an important issue. Small companies don't have enough funds to keep a budget aside for disaster management and have contingency planning in place. I think this is where the role of regulatory authorities comes in where they can force companies to ensure that they take measures for disaster management. If left to the companies, they probably won't do it themselves.

  16. Taimoor Zubar
    July 25, 2013

    “Compared to the general public, supply chain managers are much more aware about the impact of natural disasters. Companies like Walmart have dedicated departments manageing natural disasters.”

    @Kishore: What could be the reason behind this? Is it because of the fact that supply chain companies face high risks of losses in case a disaster happens? This could possible because of high investment in infrastructure.

  17. Kishore Jethanandani
    July 25, 2013

    @taimoor: This is simply because natural disasters are occuring with a higher frequency these days and the costs of each incident can be huge. 

  18. elctrnx_lyf
    July 25, 2013

    Companies such as walmart predominately depend on the goods movement to supply the product at the right tome to the end user while utilising the ware houses to optimum level. These businesses need the critical information in real time to run the business with profits.

  19. Kishore Jethanandani
    July 25, 2013

    Yes, that is correct. Walmart has a disaster management unit and it reroutes traffic when storms hit or when similar events happen. 


    Smaller companies are likely to benefit more from SaaS services.

  20. Houngbo_Hospice
    July 25, 2013

    @syedzunair, “I think so do the employers.” I don't think they always do. Many employers use to take advantage of poor people by compelling them to work for low wages and poor security conditions. Recent factory building collapse in many Asian countries is a good example. But I do agree that employers should always value the life of workers – but very few do that.

  21. Nemos
    July 25, 2013

    “In today's budget-conscious world, most organizations will put investments in this type of system low on the priority list, even as these systems get more effective and less expensive”

    It is a sad story, although we have the knowledge and the technology every time the force of nature with a combination of human greediness and in some cases stupidity we are facing disaster.

  22. Himanshugupta
    July 26, 2013

    @Kishore, companies need to identify areas where they can setup their manufacturing units incase a natural tragedy happens. But setting up the plant, managing supply chain and people is i think just too expensive. Rather than this, it make sense for companies to buy options in other manufacturing companies to share burden in case a natural calamity happen.

  23. syedzunair
    July 26, 2013


    Yes, that happens now and then but I guess generally the firms are paying decent wages. Else you would see the labor unions going on strike day in and day out.

    Factories collapsing etc is something different. That occurs because some people barely pay heed to safety. Bribe works best in the developing countries. Hence, you can continue to use a building till it comes down on its own. Unfortunate, but true. If the laws would have been abided by then the buildings would have been demolished years earlier.

  24. Kishore Jethanandani
    July 26, 2013

    @Himanshugupta: Yes, location at the right place is important but can't be the complete solution. You still have to transport goods from wherever they are to a variety of places en route to the financial destination. On the way, you are exposed to risk of natural disasters. I see alerts being readily used in logistics if they were available. Not so much in manufacturing.

  25. syedzunair
    July 26, 2013


    How do you think the small companies can invest in such initiatives if they really don't have that kind of capital. If the law enforcement agencies step in they would just force them to come up with such measures. A better solution would be incentivise this for the firms by giving tax breaks etc or by the Government in giving some subsidy for such systems.

  26. syedzunair
    July 26, 2013

    Kishore, even then things are not moving well in the developing countries. More emphasis needs to be placed on such intiatives by the Governments.

  27. Kishore Jethanandani
    July 26, 2013

    @Syed: At the end of the day, they will adopt them if the benefits exceed costs. Government will mess it up. The costs will be nominal if these are provided by SaaS companies

  28. syedzunair
    July 26, 2013


    Sad, but true. The cost cutting and savings are the two most important things in the minds of businesspeople today. Unfortunately, they value less of human lives and more for profits.

  29. syedzunair
    July 26, 2013


    SaaS seems to be a nice option. Would provide the same functions in lesser costs. I hope the businesspeople adopt it.

  30. hash.era
    July 27, 2013

    @Syed: Yes SaaS has made a good start and many businesses have kept faith on it. I also feel PaaS too will make inroads if it too been put into the picture itself.  

  31. ahdand
    July 28, 2013

    @Rich: Ohh I thought when you said that DeusM Is involved. Anyway it's a good move regardless whether its been done by inside or outside.        

  32. Taimoor Zubar
    July 29, 2013

    “A better solution would be incentivise this for the firms by giving tax breaks etc or by the Government in giving some subsidy for such systems.”

    @syedzunair: Yes, that's certainly one way to ensure that firms start investing apart from enforcement through laws. In any case, you do need some pressure/support from the government and you can't get it done without it.

  33. t.alex
    July 29, 2013

    I wonder how much is it to deploy such system? I belive this is more or less the responsibility of people at the government-level  as it has to do with large-scale geographical deployment.

  34. Kishore Jethanandani
    July 29, 2013

    It will be inexpensive with large number of subscribers. Government can help by making it mandatory to subscribe to the service but if it actually provides it nothing much will come out of it.

  35. SunitaT
    July 31, 2013

    As this is an expensive process, some companies could raise fund for establishing the process. Government could also take action for funding.

  36. t.alex
    August 3, 2013

    Kishore, i think this has to be multi-million dollars project, and it does not come cheap.

  37. Kishore Jethanandani
    August 3, 2013

    @Lalex: Much of the investment has been made. So its seems like it makes sense to reap the benefits. The challenge seems to be more about putting it all together as a solution.

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