The picture on the ground in Florida is very different from the pictures on the news. There is a sense of foreboding across the state all the way from the Florida Keys up through Tampa on the west coast and Daytona Beach on the east coast.

Although Floridians are used to hurricanes the announcement by State Governor Rick Scott that he was declaring a state of emergency on the 4th September sent several supply chains into overdrive. The Governor urged everyone to start building their hurricane kits. This included the following:

  • Bottled water (1 gallon per person per day for three days)
  • Canned foods
  • Battery operated radio
  • Battery operated lanterns
  • Batteries
  • First aid kits

The plans also urged residents to fill up their cars with fuel and collect sandbags from selected locations: ten bags per resident.

The strain on Florida’s supply chains became evident within hours of the declaration. Bottled water was stripped from the shelves in supermarkets including Publix, Winn Dixie, Costco and Walmart.  Queues began to build outside most petrol stations. More queues developed at sandbag distribution centres. What started out as an orderly plan to prepare quickly turned into a frenzied rush to stock up on essentials.

By the second day canned goods had been sold out, as had batteries. Petrol stations began to run out of fuels and there was no sand for the sandbags. By Thursday the Tampa Bay Area had distributed more than 90,000 sand bags. Local DIY stores such as Lowes and Home Depot had ran out of plywood to cover up windows as well as generators.

The retail supply chain continued to do its best to restock shelves with water but the demand was just too great. U.S. supply chains differ from UK supply chains as they focus more on operations and statistical analysis. This allows them to concentrate on demand patterns across the continent. This is important when considering sudden peaks in demand, especially with a small peninsula such as Florida where the routes in and out are restricted. Several retailers struggled to deliver as the roads built up with traffic with people evacuating the Keys.

The oil industry had similar problems. With the danger that ports might be closed it was difficult to ensure enough supplies were brought in. Coupled with the huge traffic jams it was not long before Governor Scott announced that police escorts would be used to get fuel trucks to the stations.

The supply chains themselves were not the only casualty of the emergency declaration. There were instances where employees were told that they would be sacked instantly if they did not turn up for work during the storms, even though they may have family to care for. There is no State law covering workers during storms.

In the end it will be the supply chains that save Florida, just as they saved Texas. Once the storm has passed the life blood of the supply chains will start to flow again and Floridians can return to their stores knowing that they will find full shelves and plenty of water. But an important lesson has been learned for the need for supply chains to be included in any discussions or decisions regarding planning for or handling disasters.


If you’d like to help those affected by Hurricane Irma, you can donate via The Red Cross Website