When the extreme hits home

Pharmaceutical CommercePharmaceutical Commerce - September 2021
Volume 16
Issue 3

Hurricane Ida reminds us of the importance of an effective supply chain

As I sat last week at my wife’s upstairs desk writing this editor's letter, earbuds on, I couldn't quite drown out the noises from downstairs—motorized sanders zigzagging the floors, the occasional hammering and loud thuds, and other ambient sounds; not the pleasant ones. Like so many along the destructive path of Hurricane Ida earlier this month, my home in NJ was damaged heavily by massive flooding. Thankfully, my family was safe and we're grateful beyond words to the many friends, co-workers and family members who have lent such amazing help and support in the weeks since with cleanup and the beginnings of restoration.

As draining as this experience has been mentally and physically, we know we’re but one of the countless families and neighborhoods impacted by extreme weather events that are becoming increasingly more frequent.

Trying to settle my thoughts to write this, I found myself thinking about Ida in the context of industries like pharma, and functions within such as the supply chain. Affected personally, I’ve gained a deeper respect and appreciation for the ways manufacturers, suppliers and logistics companies navigate weather crises to avoid significant disruption to the transport and delivery of critical medicines.

All we could really focus on was grabbing a few things, rounding up the pets and getting to dry ground. It’s hard to imagine all the contingencies related to tracking and monitoring hundreds of freight containers traveling by ship or dozens of pallets loaded onto a aircraft, and not to mention the logistical maneuvering likely required at ports and warehouses to keep deliveries on schedule to pharmacies and hospitals. And then there’s the challenge of maintaining stable control of temperature-sensitive products.

Of course, it’s never perfect, there is disruption, concessions made, expectations missed; how could there not be as the wider magnitude and full devastation from these events are often unforeseen. But it’s no less impressive.

Pharmaceutical Commerce, in recent coverage, has featured expert insight and discussion around the implications of weather catastrophes for the pharma supply chain, particularly amid the added pressure on distribution during the Covid-19 pandemic. We touch on the topic again this month in our main feature, noting the importance of using advanced data analytics to help suppliers identify ideal transport routes—and through tracking data revising those routes as needed to lessen the sting of weather events that could threaten on-time delivery of temperature-sensitive cargo. Executives interviewed in the article also stress that cold chains should have a certain level of flexibility and adaptability fundamentally built in to address unforeseen circumstances, including changing weather patterns.

AeroSafe Global’s Jay McHarg, in our “Last Word” guest column this month, underscores the opportunity for pharma to achieve carbon neutrality in the coming decade, as a UN climate change report sounds alarm bells on global warming trends that could trigger even more frequent extreme weather events.

And in our June cover feature on supply chain management, we chronicled how weather catastrophes like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, back-to-back typhoons in Asia and severe blizzard conditions earlier this year in Northeastern US wreaked havoc for manufacturing facilities and supply chain operations related to active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), excipients, finished products and medical devices.

Volker Kirchner, director of temperature control solutions for World Courier, puts things into perspective in this month’s profile, pointing out that a delay of five or 10 hours could be the difference between a successfully delivered drug shipment or a patient, waiting on treatment, succumbing to illness.

As families like mine recover from Hurricane Ida, and work to get back to whatever a normal life is these days—something that may never happen for those who lost loved ones (the storm killed over 80 people in the US, including 30 in NJ), industries and businesses like pharma find themselves with similar, albeit different level, challenges. In both cases, at least for me, it’s easy to marvel at the effort involved.

Michael Christel is Editorial Director of Pharmaceutical Commerce. He can be reached at [email protected].

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