Chain of Thought

Japan's Broken Chains

A logistics professional's biggest fear is the unknown. Unfortunately, logistics professionals connected to last week's disasters in Japan don't have the luxury of that fear any more. Survival demands that they act. They can't rely on past experience to guide their actions, since nothing of this magnitude has ever happened to modern-day Japan. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Naoto Kan told his nation as much, calling the earthquake and tsunami that devastated their country the biggest crisis Japan has faced since it emerged from World War II.

Supply chain managers around the world are now feeling the effects. They have no choice but to find alternatives to their Japanese sources of products and services. Dozens of semiconductor factories were damaged, and that threatens to damage the consumer electronics industry. Even the automotive industry in the U.S. will probably have to scramble to keep production lines running. Consumers all over the world will likely see price increases for many of the technology items they buy.

On a personal level, outside of economic consequences, most people outside Japan reading about this nation's devastation probably feel horrible about the citizens affected and maybe have been moved to say a little prayer and even make a donation to the Red Cross. However, if you're reading this blog, chances are your business is not only affected by this, but you may even know people in Japan who are struggling for economic and physical survival.

Before you go to Plan B of your sourcing strategy, reach out to your supply chain partners in Japan and find out how they're doing—if they're reachable at all. We're all human beings first. If they know their business partners are not giving up on them, it will give them more motivation to get through this crisis intact.

This wound is too fresh and massive to understand how to cope with it, let alone treat it. However, if you're going to ProMat next week, you'll have a little more motivation to visit the ALAN booth. As we reported last week, The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) is partnering the Greater Chicago Food Depository (a Feeding America member food bank) and the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) to build food boxes for emergency response. Of course last week this exhibit was supposed to be a way to get attendees involved in responding to smaller-scale disasters by navigating a specially constructed assembly line. By this time next week, ALAN may have a new message to send about the events in Japan.

"We're staying in close touch with our Association base, having alerted them Friday morning," says The Terminal Corporation's John Menzies, who is also president of ALAN. "It takes several days after an event like this for the relief agency community to identify what their needs will be outside of the typical kit they have on hand. They have to assess their needs in light of the event they're dealing with. That's when there's outreach to ALAN and industry."

Don't be surprised if ALAN's theme at the show is adjusted a bit in light of the Japan devastation. Logistics professionals from all over the world will be in attendance and this represents a great opportunity to rally the troops with a direct appeal for their time and talent. I can't think of a better way to do that than by working with humanitarian organizations like ALAN to repair chains suffering greater trauma than anyone could have planned for. I hope you'll take part in that solution.

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