Earthquake Lesson – Manual Supply Chain Systems

Munted Earthquake Survivor. Source: Jos Arts

The last few days provided some unpleasant diversions. Christchurch may be on the South Island of New Zealand but the earthquake left its mark on the Auckland based AgriChain Centre & Hortsource teams as well.  In a small country with two degrees of separation this has to be expected. Life goes on and now it is time to start where we had left off. 

Its events like these which make us very much aware that the sophisticated supply structures we have created to replace having to go hunting and gathering are actually very fragile and that we can expect them to be disrupted by mother nature when it suits her. The produce industry has obviously been impacted upon as well.  I have no comprehensive set of details at hand but working back from the consumer, the picture looks something like this:

Access to clean water and food were critical in the early days but no one cared whose brand it was or which store the products were coming from.  Retail was severely disrupted with many supermarkets and greengrocers initially out of action, as were distribution centres.  This situation is now obviously improving albeit slowly and some stores may never re-open. In the early days though, it meant that consumption-ready produce grown on the outskirts of town or scheduled to be trucked in from other production areas around the country had nowhere to go.  The supply chain was severely disrupted. I heard one report where miraculously all systems were “good to go” but distribution ground to a screaming halt because the team involved  could not conceptualise how to manage the distribution manually, you know, with pen & paper as opposed to the keyboard.  Given the amount of time it took to get the relief effort going in the suburbs, we have all been indoctrinated with the realisation that households need to be self-sufficient with emergency supplies for a lot longer than three days.  And hopefully this will get the nation scrambling to establish or improve their emergency kits.  The big lesson for me though, albeit from a distance, is that we need to ensure that the basic ability to maintain the supply chain is not hampered by the fact that we are no longer familiar with manual work processes. 

Christchurch has shown that we can be in a new reality from one second to the next.  We need to be prepared to work effectively without electricity, without keyboards, laptops, ipads and RFID technology to keep supply chains going.  It is difficult enough to move around a destroyed city but there is no excuse for not being able to operate the business with pen and paper when an emergency strikes. Training for the unexpected has to enter our consciousness whether we like it or not.

Write a comment