As I pen this update, we are entering the third week of the current H1N1 flu outbreak in North America.  As of this writing, there have been over 1200 cases reported in 21 countries, with many examples of proactive action to stem any additional spreading of the influenza.  There is some good news in that health officials in Mexico feel that the infection may be waning in that country, while in the U.S., cases appear to be not as virulent as originally thought. The World Health Organization is also refraining from raising the threat level to full pandemic level six.

There is good news regarding the supply chain perspective as many companies have swung into action for mitigating any further outbreak or interruption to business operations. Some specific examples include Bridgestone Corporation, manufacturer of automotive and truck tires, who on Friday shut all four of its manufacturing plants in Mexico for a period of five days. Global discrete manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. implemented parts of its emergency response plan by restricting its employees from traveling to Mexico and actively monitoring the outbreak for further interruptions. Other companies reported as severely limiting travel to Mexico include General Electric, DuPont, and Emerson Electric.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Abbott Laboratories started planning for pandemics after the outbreak of avian flu in Asia during 2006.  Abbott, which has two manufacturing plants in Mexico, had instructed its employees traveling within Mexico to leave the country on April 24, and continues to screen all of its Mexican employees for flu symptoms.

An article appearing yesterday in the Dallas Morning News reinforces how companies can best be prepared for these types of supply chain interruptions.  It outlines the story of consumer paper goods manufacturer Kimberly Clark, that initiated a cross-functional team with medical, healthcare, human resource and product supply expertise early in the crisis to minimize potential disruptions to business operations. The article concludes that having a plan is the key to get through any crisis, and that is exactly what I teach in my workshops on supply chain risk management.

While the effects of this latest pandemic incident  may be waning, and many may take issue with the media for over-hyping the extent of the outbreak, the threat does remain that this H1N1 strain of flu can re-appear in a much more virulent form during the next flu season in the fall. Heed the advice! Insure your organization and your company have cross-functional plans identified to respond to supply chain disruptions such as pandemics.

While world agencies through proactive action may have well avoided major consequences in this outbreak, it does not preclude a different outcome in a future incident.

Bob Ferrari

Note: If your company is interested in sponsoring a two-day on-site training workshop in supply chain risk management planning, contact me at supplychaininfo at theferrarigroup dot com.