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Agility in the midst of Adversity

Recently, a Tornado struck one of Caterpillar’s key manufacturing facilities.  Fortunately, the members of the team received advance warning of the imminent tornado and were able to seek shelter.  Yet the facility itself was damaged to the point that it halted manufacturing of a critical part for wheeled machinery.  However, the damage from the storm could have resulted in extremely high costs – not only in repair and restoration of capacity, but also in abilty to stay in business.  As in many disasters, companies and organizations are not able to determine up front which specific parts of their capability or mission will be affected.  Many companies put together business continuity or emergency management plans with potential risks and vulnerabilities that may affect their ability to do their job.   The ability for the organization to effectively recover often depends upon the level of up-front preparation and coordinated planning that went into the contingency plan.

[Safety Coordinator Sherry Black hustled workers into shelter just before a tornado tore apart the Oxford, Miss., Caterpillar plant.] Copyright: Caterpillar.      Source, WSJ 20 May 2008

Caterpillar’s Oxford MS Plant after a Feb 2008 Tornado.

This is good example of an organization’s ability to adapt and rapidly identify alternatives to ensure existing customers can be supported.   Caterpillar was not able to produce a critical part – a high pressure steel coupling – that is used on many of Caterpillar’s wheeled vehicles. 

In this case Caterpillar was able to not only find existing unused inventory of the parts and re-employ them but it was also able to locate an idle plant outside the company capable of manufacturing the parts.  

Agility and resilience during adversity is critical not only to business, but also to government to maintain continuity of operations.   Similar interdependencies arise when state governments are looked to for support in enabling first responders and aid workers to identify those areas most critical for bringing the community back to normal.  With a clear understanding of where the human and capital assets are, and how to get them to the right place, government leadership, equipped with a robust emergency management plan, and the capability to execute it, can also keep their constituents satisfied with the services provide.

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  • I think the largest challenge govt would have in reacting to such a situation is to overcome the territorial nature of the different agencies/bureaus.

    There are many examples of this, one in the press recently is the FBI and ATF squabbling about who is in charge at crime scenes, with agents from each agency threatening to arrest one another.

    As much as I would hope it would happen, since it’s not part of their daily approach to doing business, it would be a challenge.