As I compose this column it’s three days into the widespread power failures caused by Hurricane Irene. Writing in the comfort of my office at home – comfortable only because of my generator – I wonder how many others around me can still conduct business, as entire neighborhoods and office parks here are still without power. When I worked for NBC some years ago, hurricane preparations included having the ability to run the entire network from the West Coast if New York was put out of action, and I’m sure those capabilities remain today. But what happens to the rest of us if our offices abandon us?

At another past employer, a request went out to all of us Logistics Managers to think about disaster recovery ideas, and provide our input by a certain date. I went one step further and held a working pizza lunch with my transportation department, where we all brainstormed numerous “what if” disaster situations. It’s amazing what a little pizza, salad, and soda can accomplish, as long as you respect Brainstorming Rule # 1: There Are No Bad Ideas. The process we used was similar to the Root Cause investigation that underlies 6 Sigma methodology. But instead of digging deeper to find root causes, we kept asking “What happens if” at ever deeper levels of failure to identify solutions.

For example: What happens if we lose SAP? Answer: We create in Word or Excel a similar transport order to what SAP would generate, and either FAX or scan & email it to our carriers and warehouse four states away, knowing we’ll need to upload the data manually into SAP when it returns. But, what happens if we lose building power, or we can’t get in? Answer: Use company laptops at alternate sites (which means issuing our handful of laptops to key personnel ahead of disaster). What alternate sites? Answer: Home, or the local library, or Starbucks, etc. But of course those laptops, (or at least backup thumb drives) must be preloaded with substitute transport orders to transmit to carriers & our warehouse. Ah, but what if the company email server also fails? Answer: Set up new, pre-designated free email addresses to use on our laptops or even home computers, to both keep company information segregated, and make it easier to find each other. Our standard format was: companyname(plus 2 initials of user)@ But what if …. and so it went, until we had explored every likely (and some unlikely) scenarios, and crafted possible answers.

Fortunately, we never had to implement the entire plan – which, by the way, fit on one page. But the corporate types loved it as our contribution – we had thought of failures and solutions at our local level they had never dreamed of at the corporate level. And that’s an important point: what would have worked for us at a single, small office might not work for a larger entity. But the process and “What if” questions needing answers would be similar, and the underlying premise of answering “how do we continue to function?” would remain. While the details, questions, answers, and scope could be different for your department, office, or company, the answers will evolve into your disaster recovery plan if you pursue them. 

In conclusion, do you have a good answer to the question in the title of this article? If not, why not? 

This article is part of the monthly series authored by ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group Board Members, who are current practitioners, consultants, and educators. In future columns, they will continue sharing their views on a number of Supply Chain topics.

George Yarusavage, CTL, C.P.M., is a principal in Fortress Consulting, specializing in Transportation and Sourcing issues. He is also the Treasurer of ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group and can be reached at, or (203) 984-4957. Membership in the Group is open to all ISM members who are responsible for or have an interest in the Logistics & Transportation fields.