A Glimpse Into the World of Hurricane Logistics

Typically, November is the end of hurricane season, but 2017 has been anything but typical. With monster storm after monster storm battering Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the Gulf Coast, mega storms are back in the public eye – and weather professionals aren’t ready to call the season over just yet.

One common trait of Atlantic Hurricane season is that there isn’t usually more than one major active storm in the ocean at any given time. Clearly that hasn’t been the case this year. And while plenty of great scientific and climatology minds will wonder and debate over why that is – as a logistics guy, I’m more interested in how to plan for it.

We’ve Hurricane Logisticstalked before about the amazing impact the trucking industry has on day-to-day life. And at least here in North Carolina, we’ve seen the shelves bare of bread, milk, and toilet paper the day before a big storm is scheduled to hit. But typically, those items are restocked once the storm passes by, and life returns to normal.

Not so in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which tried to cripple the state of Texas. According to tweets from those in the thick of it, local grocery chains like H-E-B were restocked and running, even when federal services like FEMA were having difficulty entering flooded areas! So how did they do it? H-E-B and hurricane veteran Scott McClelland spoke to LinkedIn about his management style through Hurricane Harvey, and here are my favorite takeaways from this fascinating article:

  • Prioritize. McClelland said in the week after the hurricane, his floral vendors were calling in, begging to begin floral shipments again. But flowers aren’t shelf-stable, and no one buys bouquets during historic floods. More importantly, flowers require refrigeration space that’s valuable for milk and other perishable necessities. Sometimes, getting the right products moved requires telling people no.
  • Prepare. And understand that preparation is a gamble. Mother Nature is fickle; forecasters cannot predict exactly where a hurricane (or any other weather pattern) will strike. It can be frustrating to prepare for flooding and only get an inch of rain, but when it turns out to be conditions like Hurricane Harvey, you’ll be glad you were the one prepared.
  • Work with the Source. McClelland worked with other stores in the area to arrange deliveries of exactly what they needed, where they needed it. Altering his shipments – toilet paper instead of party napkins from paper goods suppliers, bread instead of cakes from bakeries – allowed him to get more product in each shipment.

McClelland’s insight into H-E-B logistics during a crisis, and his think-on-your-feet management style definitely make him a logistics superhero in my book.

Want to help hurricane relief efforts in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico? You can donate funds via One America Appeal and help real-life superheroes rebuild.

Fuel for Thought,