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Pandemics’ Lessons for Supply Chain

It reached critical mass, went viral, and swiftly moved through the population. At the height of its powers it affected tens of thousands of individuals and manifested itself in every facet of the supply chain. Raw material suppliers, component manufacturers, distributors, transportation carriers, contract manufacturers, and end customers were all touched by it.

And even now, as it loses its steam and begins to go dormant, it will strike out and affect thousands more. I am talking about the flu and using it as an example of the fragility of the supply chain to external events.

Although this season's flu caused a degree of misery for many and tragedy for some families, it was mild in its overall global impact as compared to flu epidemics of the past. It was just a few years ago that the swine flu accelerated to the forefront of our awareness as it spread rapidly in Mexico; and the flu epidemic of 1918 will forever serve as a reminder of the devastating power of a severe pandemic.

One Little Cough & Then…

Pandemics remind us how external events can suddenly take over the supply chain.

Pandemics remind us how external events can suddenly take over the supply chain.

The gamble
The simple fact is that each year the flu is a roll of the dice. Nobody knows how severe the next one will be. However, even if the seasonal flu should ratchet up just a few degrees in severity, the situation dramatically changes. The number of people unable to come to work rises, schools close to minimize exposure, local and national governments step-in and take action, companies curtail travel, carrier transportation is affected because of personnel shortages, and consumer purchasing behavior changes.

I am not being an alarmist; this is a probable future scenario we can anticipate. However, it is only one in a constellation of possible external and internal threats that we as responsible managers should be prepared to deal with.

No one knows when the next natural or financial tsunami will hit. What we do know is that risk is always present. Being vigilant and planning for the mitigation of a variety of likely risk scenarios will allow us to all improve our outcomes. Doing so makes us better supply-chain partners and contributes to the resiliency of the global supply chain.

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2 comments on “Pandemics’ Lessons for Supply Chain

  1. FLYINGSCOT
    April 5, 2013

    I reckon most companies plan for natural disaster but not many think of pandemics like flu and other human diseases.  It is probably worth putting more emphasis on these.

  2. Clairvoyant
    April 7, 2013

    Good point, Flyingscot. However, I wonder how many companies actually think about pandemics. They may not think it would be worthwhile to spend money to put systems and practices in place in the case that they would be affected by a pandemic. However, if a pandemic was significant enough, it may be very detrimental to the company.

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