Wholesalers: Are You Ready, Should Disaster Strike?

Alan Siger - Wholesale Market

Alan Siger - Wholesale MarketIn the past few months‭, ‬the world has endured catastrophic hurricanes in Florida‭, ‬Texas and Puerto Rico‭, ‬historic earthquakes in‭ ‬Mexico‭, ‬and flooding in Africa and Southern Asia‭. ‬What is going on‭? ‬Is climate change affecting the frequency and strength of hurricanes and rainstorms‭? ‬

I have my opinion‭, ‬but that’s a subject for another day‭. ‬Whether you believe in man’s impact on climate change‭, ‬or even if you choose to not believe that the climate is changing‭, ‬the recent disasters should serve‭ ‬as a wake-up call to ensure you and your company are ready to endure the impact of disruptive and extreme weather conditions‭.‬

My former business was in Pittsburgh‭. ‬Though not known for beautiful weather‭, ‬the Steel City is not known for extreme weather‭, ‬either‭. ‬Every 20‭ ‬to 30‭ ‬years‭, ‬we catch the tail end of a hurricane‭, ‬which causes some flooding in low-lying areas‭; ‬but our hilly‭ ‬terrain protects the metropolitan area from tornadoes‭. ‬Earthquakes are almost unheard of‭, ‬and major snowstorms are a possibility‭, ‬but normally don’t do much more than disrupt operations for a day or so‭. ‬Our business was located right on the banks of the Allegheny River‭, ‬but‭ ‬our loading docks were above the 100-year flood plain‭. ‬

In the 40-plus years I was involved in my business‭, ‬we never had a major disrupter affect us‭; ‬and we were lucky because we did not have a formal disaster plan in place‭. ‬I guess my thought was we had great people and an almost 24/7/365‭ ‬operation‭, ‬so if something happened‭, ‬we’d be able to mobilize and do what needed to be done‭. ‬Flying by the seat of one’s pants is not wise in most situations‭, ‬especially when considering a plan for business survival when the unexpected hits‭. ‬

Twenty-some years ago‭, ‬before we relied on cell phones and the internet to operate‭, ‬businesses were not as vulnerable to disruption as they are today‭. ‬Landlines rarely were disrupted‭, ‬and when they were‭, ‬there were plenty of pay phones around‭. ‬Most produce‭ ‬business was transacted with a pen and paper‭, ‬so a power failure may have slowed down the back-of-the-house accounting for a bit‭, ‬but the trading continued without interruption‭.‬

Today’s modern produce wholesaler is joined at the hip with modern technology‭. ‬It would be difficult to operate if key technology was‭ ‬suddenly unavailable‭. ‬Business disruptions can occur without a natural disaster‭. ‬Regardless of the cause‭, ‬an extended power outage‭, ‬failed telecommunication and/or internet access has the potential to put a company out of commission‭. ‬What happens to your company if on a busy Monday morning‭, ‬an excavating contactor down the road cuts power and telecommunication lines leaving you without phones or internet‭? ‬Are you ready‭? ‬Do you have a plan‭?‬

Though I’m certainly not an expert on disaster/business disruption plans‭, ‬here are a few precautionary processes we adopted over the years as our reliance on technology grew‭:‬

•‭ ‬Assemble a team of trusted associates you can rely on to respond in an emergency situation‭. ‬The team should include people from‭ ‬operations‭, ‬building maintenance‭, ‬IT/business systems and sales‭. ‬It’s key to expect the unexpected‭. ‬Make sure these team members are people who feel empowered to make decisions on their own‭. ‬Create some hypothetical situations‭, ‬and discuss potential action plans‭. ‬Make sure all employees know about the team and its members‭ ‬to avoid confusion during a disruption‭.‬

•‭ ‬In a disaster‭, ‬the internet may be non-operational‭, ‬and the cell lines for phone conversations may be overloaded‭. ‬During such times‭, ‬texting may be the best way to communicate‭. ‬Make sure your team has all appropriate cell phone numbers‭. ‬Ask supervisors to‭ ‬set up group texts with their teams for quick access to communications when needed‭. ‬Again‭, ‬let all employees know that in this‭ ‬type of situation‭, ‬texting may be the only form of communication‭.‬

•‭ ‬Consider an emergency backup generator‭. ‬Even if you don’t want to incur the expense of backing up your entire operation‭, ‬including refrigeration‭, ‬make sure your computers‭, ‬Wi-Fi and internet will continue to run in the event power is lost‭. ‬If you already have a backup generator‭, ‬make sure it’s operational‭. ‬Run monthly start-up tests‭, ‬and once a year‭, ‬run your operation from the generator for a few hours‭. ‬This test-run‭ ‬will expose any potential glitches in the system‭, ‬and allow you to replace fuel that has been in the tank for too long‭.‬

•‭ ‬Run a second internet connection into your operation from a provider that uses different technology than your existing internet‭ ‬source‭. ‬It doesn’t take a disaster for your internet provider to have a failure‭, ‬and the money you spend for a second provider is well worth it‭. ‬

•‭ ‬If the disruption is isolated to your facility‭ (‬lightning strike‭, ‬fire or localized flooding‭), ‬you’ll likely have quick access to the services needed to get your operations back up to speed‭. ‬However‭, ‬if you are part of a major‭ ‬disaster‭, ‬it may take days‭, ‬weeks or months to get the help you need‭. ‬Most importantly‭, ‬don’t forget your associates and their families may also be impacted‭. ‬Be sure to reach out and help if possible‭. ‬

There are many online disaster preparedness sites that are helpful in preparing an emergency response plan‭. ‬The federal government offers step-by-step guidance to help a business prepare for the unexpected‭. ‬You’ve kindly taken a few minutes to read my column‭, ‬please invest a few more‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬look at‭ ‬ready.gov.‬

Alan Siger is chairman of Siger Group LLC‭, ‬offering consulting services in business strategy‭, ‬logistics and operations to the produce industry‭. ‬Prior to selling Consumers Produce in 2014‭, ‬Siger spent more than four decades growing Consumers into a major regional distributor‭. ‬Active in issues affecting the produce industry throughout his career‭, ‬Siger is a former president of the United Fresh Produce Association‭. ‬