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Re-Learning Preparedness Lessons

Supply Chain Relationships Are Key to Emergency Planning

Over the years, Food Management’s editorial team has covered many natural and other disasters. Food is always a critical issue in any relief effort and our readers have often been intimately involved in helping mitigate the difficult conditions that always accompany these events.
From Hurricane Andrew to flooding in North Dakota, to 9/11 and Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and now Sandy, we’ve always found FSDs and their staffs working side by side with emergency responders, management teams and medical personnel.

That said, the lessons learned in retrospect from these and similar events are always uncannily familiar. One of the most important is the value of an Emergency Preparedness plan, and more importantly, a plan that has been tested and reviewed regularly. Too many of these are little more than bureaucratic white papers that sit on office shelves, and are of little use in the case of an emergency that really requires advance planning.

There is often little a foodservice director can do to influence how effectively a host institution prepares for emergencies. But there is much a director can do to ensure that his or her department is prepared for one.

One of the most important contributions is to ensure that foodservice supply chain relationships are firmly established, that key understandings are in place with distributors and embedded in their contracts, and that advance arrangements are clearly documented. Here’s a recap of some other lessons:

Establish an Emergency Preparedness Plan—and your distributor’s role in it—ahead of time. For example: does your primary distributor maintain emergency power backup generators at its site? Can it provide temporary refrigerated storage if asked to do so?

Importantly, what kind of emergency preparedness plan does the distributor itself have in place for its own business continuity? Does it have standing mutual aid agreements with other distributors for supplies in an emergency? What kinds of emergency arrangements has it made with key manufacturers, such as bottled water providers? 

Consider that regional emergencies are much different than individual location emergencies. If you will be one of many customers clamoring for emergency services and supplies, understand how your distributor will establish its priorities among customers, institutions and government requests.

Ensure that both you and your suppliers have exchanged copies of your emergency plans. Understand what you can reasonably expect and make sure you and the distributoraccurately share that understanding.

Make sure you exchange up-to-date lists of key contacts on a regular basis, including office, home and cell numbers, email addresses and (if appropriate) social media arrangements. Include info for all key staff and distributor contacts (not just for your regular sales contact). The order of contact priority should be clear, as should the responsibility for communicating crisis messages and arrangements across both organizations.

Make sure security issues are addressed in advance. Signed letters of understanding and advance security clearances can avoid many security hassles when time is of the essence.

Don’t assume deliveries and receiving will occur in the same way they do normally. Have you established alternate delivery locations if they MIGHT be necessary? Who is in charge of ordering and receiving in case of an emergency?

A few other things to keep in mind:

• Make sure you take beginning and ending inventories, especially for insurance and reimbursement purposes;
• Assign special charge numbers for emergency deliveries.
• Track use of specific product if you are a regional emergency center that will have to feed non-employee, non-student or non-patient customers. It simplifies billback issues later.

A longer and more detailed version of this column is on the website. Go here.

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