Distribution Business Lessons From Severe Weather

For logistics providers that depend on routine patterns, the swift and disastrous effects of severe weather can be particularly jarring. Here are a few of the strategies that Dotcom Distribution has learned for weathering even the worst storms.

When severe weather hits, it can be swift and disastrous. For logistics providers that depend on routine patterns, the effects can be particularly jarring. Our organization, Dotcom Distribution, has survived a number of severe circumstances. Unlike an uncooperative employee, Mother Nature can’t be fired. Here are a few of the strategies that I’ve learned for weathering even the worst storms.

Hurricane Irene:

Although the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy overshadowed Irene, Irene was nonetheless a massive concern to our business and community. As one of the first major storms to affect our company, it was with Hurricane Irene that we improved our reactions to severe weather situations and put the following system in place:

  • Ensure safety: During times of emergency, safety always comes first.
  • Communicate in a timely manner: For us, clear and concise communication worked best. First, we sent text messages and emails to our employees, updating them on workplace changes. Second, we alerted our clients to potential impacts on daily logistics and production. Third, we worked with our business partners (trucking companies, resource centers, etc.) to counter distribution obstacles. Transparency was key, no matter who we were communicating with.
  • Be flexible: Just as storm patterns shift and swirl, our reactions to them have to be flexible. Whether this means altering work shifts or employee responsibilities, close monitoring of a storm is often the best way to navigate it.

Takeaway: Ensure safety, then flexibility. With clients and customers alike counting on the timely delivery of orders, we first sought to ensure the safety of our logistics team. Then, we emphasized flexibility to help provide on-time delivery, maintaining open communication the entire time.

Hurricane Sandy

Despite preparations for Hurricane Sandy beginning in late October 2012, the storm’s devastation was catastrophic. When a State of Emergency was issued, we quickly realized that Sandy was an enormous concern. Although we knew that the hurricane was coming, and had generators to keep parts of our facility operational, we could not circumvent larger community issues such as  power outages, road closures, or employee evacuations.

Hurricane Sandy was well-predicted though, and our greatest strength was an ability to be proactive rather than reactive. As a team we moved forward together, with the entire staff pitching in to handle orders to prepare full operation when the roads cleared. Even the management team helped out on the distribution line, supplementing employees who were unable to commute. Just as our larger community worked together to survive the hurricane, it was our business’ teamwork that helped us avoid severe lags in production.

Takeaway: Work together. Granted, we couldn’t keep up with orders while understaffed. Having all staff pitch in, however, meant that we were as prepared as possible to regain full operations.

The Snowpocalypse

During 2014’s massive snowstorm, which was nicknamed “The Snowpocalypse”, we again found advanced planning and effective communication strategies vital. Conditions during the Snowpocalypse were radically different miles apart. Rather than making assumptions about conditions, communication with both with employees and clients served us well.

Being flexible helped our team traverse the storm. Although our facility was shut down, we over-prepared by ramping up staffing for the next days. When less snow fell than expected, we were able to observe the storm’s trajectory and alter shifts (canceling some and extending others) to accommodate employee and business needs.

Takeaway: Communicate. Delaying or canceling shifts only helps employees if you reach them in time. Timely communication helped our employees structure their days and helped to set expectations with clients.

When it comes to safety and success, business leaders are accountable to many. It’s best to have your answers ahead of time and learn from past experiences. For example, after Hurricane Sandy, we expanded facility generators to ensure full-utilization during future blackouts. With each severe weather situation we further refined our communication systems, coming up with more effective ways to disseminate alerts, updates and plans.

Although we hope that more severe weather situations won’t happen in the future, it’s inevitable that something will. Regardless of how severe a weather situation turns out to be, the same management standards should always apply: safety, communication and flexibility.

Vic Rucci is a senior leader with over 25 years of progressive experience in the strategic management of organizations, the operational infrastructure to support these strategies, and devising the necessary supply chain efficiencies to provide the highest service levels at the lowest cost.

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