By Dr. Tom DePaoli
Many terrorist attacks focus on the spectacular, spreading fear and taking as many lives as possible. One of their purposes is to have governments spend enormous amounts of money for terror prevention and to demoralize the populace.
- Why haven’t terrorists focused on the supply chain which could be much more disruptive?
First let us look at little history. During the American Revolutionary War, Francis Marian (the Swamp Fox) understood the impact of attacking the British supply chain and was a pioneer in this type of disruptive supply chain warfare. He attacked two particular “choke points” on the supply lines on the Santee River near Charleston and the Black River near Georgetown. He also attacked British forts which were in essence also supply depots. This was very effective. Note that on average it took a sailing ship 6-7 weeks to sail the Atlantic one way. So British resupply with manufacturing and procurement in England conservatively took 18-20 weeks! Many terrorists lack a historical perspective or do not understand the importance of the supply chain.
- What about now, is our supply chain secure especially container ports?
The Southern California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach led the North American inbound container trade with a combined volume of 7.6 million TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit) is the unit of the capacity of a container ship, representing 30.3 percent of the overall North America inbound container trade. If terrorists decided to disrupt these two ports the impact on the United States would be almost immediate. Two of the most obvious ways to disrupt the ports would be to mine the ports or plant a container or multiple containers with hazardous materials either biological or radioactive.
- So what is the point here for supply chain professionals?
With the expansion of the Panama Canal, the time is now to not only consider the new costs of logistics, but the risk of a major container port being shut down! Supply chain professionals should consider using multiple inbound ports to alleviate this risk. Currently many supply chain professionals’ factor in the risk of natural disasters to supplier selection and backup suppliers. This is commendable, but there is more work to be done.
Again, the time is now, with the expansion of the Panama Canal, to look at the entire inbound logistics network and alleviate the risk of a major container port or ports being shut down; by judiciously dividing up your inbound flow between container ports of arrival.