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Guest Opinion: Disaster Preparedness: Expecting the Unexpected

1 Dec, 2012 By: Bob Formica, Fosdick Fulfillment Response

As Superstorm Sandy has again reminded us with overwhelming force, disasters — whether natural or man-made — can strike at any time. While the toll on lost lives and human suffering is incalculable, the cost to businesses and livelihoods also comes at a price tag yet to be assessed.

Such times are a vivid reminder that having a disaster preparedness and recovery plan is not only prudent, but an essential good business practice. Though it may seem overwhelming, there are protocols that marketers and supply chain partners can put in place to help mitigate damages.

A Solid Offense Is the Best Defense

Marketers should make sure that all of their vendors have emergency contingency plans aimed at reducing or eliminating business disruptions. An emergency contact list must be developed and maintained in the event of turmoil, as well as a plan for ready means of communication with vendors and consumers. Alternative office space and a list of critical equipment including furniture, fixtures and supplies should be maintained.

In terms of a logistics partner, several factors should be weighted:

  • Choose Wisely: Choosing a logistics partner with appropriate backup systems is vital. Facilities should be equipped with backup power — such as generators or battery systems — in the event disaster does strike.
  • Maintain Bi-Coastal Facilities: Diversifying your inventory in different geographical locations gives you the decided advantage of being able to continue to ship product in the event that one facility goes down.
  • If In Doubt, Re-Route: Incoming product should be re-routed to alternative sites for processing if one warehouse has been detrimentally impacted.
  • Back Up Data: Redundant computer systems and/or cloud-based storage of data are vital when disaster strikes. Vital information such as orders, order status, and client communication should be readily accessible.

Handle With Care

Marketers who treat their customers with proactivity and sensitivity during crises are likely to be much more successful in fostering a long-term relationship with those who have been beset by disaster. Some of the tactics that can be employed include:

  • Communication: Maintaining the ability to communicate via telephone, text, E-mail or public channels about any disruption to business should your primary facility be down for any period of time is essential. Calls should be routed to an alternative facility capable of handling them.
  • Be Proactive: Work with your fulfillment partner to receive updates from your small parcel carriers about which ZIP codes are most affected and then use that information to hold shipments until the impacted areas can receive deliveries.
  • Be Flexible: If impacted customers have a limited window in which to return an order, process a warranty claim, or receive credit or a new product, consider extending a customer’s time frame so that they are not shortchanged.
  • Be Both Timely and Transparent: If your business is disrupted by disaster, let your supply chain partners and customers know what is happening and that you have a plan in place as quickly as possible. Your buyers are much more likely to be understanding and empathetic if you are straightforward about what is going on.

The Worst Brings Out the Best

Benjamin Franklin once remarked, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” And yet times of crisis tend to pull communities together and remind us of what is really important. When the basic necessities of life are jeopardized, priorities shift. The wise business leader recognizes the need to shift with them. By having a solid plan in place that is executable, marketers and vendors can bring order to chaos, and minimize the degree of disruption that both they and their valued customers experience. ■

About the Author: Bob Formica

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