As flooding by the mighty Mississippi River and its tributaries spread further and further south last week, International Paper was one of thousands of companies affected. According to news reports, IP began shutting down its containerboard mill at Redwood, Mississippi, just north of Vicksburg, on 08 May.
Mill manager Tom Olstad is quoted as saying, “In light of the current flooding estimates, we are taking prudent measures to temporarily shut down the mill. Our first concern is the safety and well-being of our employees, as well as protecting the mill’s equipment and assets.”
Rail service to the mill had already been affected after Vicksburg had cut and removed some track for use in constructing a flood wall. Access to the mill was expected to be further diminished by road closures and flooding.
Further north, and several days earlier, New Page began a controlled shutdown of its coated freesheet mill in Wickliffe, Kentucky, situated near the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, because the flooding kept it from operating its wastewater treatment plant.
Unlike tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, this year’s flooding of the Mississippi River has been a prolonged event, giving persons downstream some opportunity to either avoid or prepare for the coming disaster. For some, of course, there was little they could do except leave.
The current flooding and recent tornadoes in the South remind us that we should never underestimate the power of nature nor assume we might not be affected. We can, however, anticipate such events and prepare for them.
While the safety of the manufacturing facility is a primary concern, natural disasters can significantly affect mill operations without causing structural damage at the site. Employees may be unable to report to work because of flooded roads or because they are dealing with the loss of their own homes. Supplies might become unavailable, again because roads are impassable or a supplier’s facility has been damaged; or you might be unable to deliver product because rail lines have been damaged or port facilities are inaccessible.
Disaster planning needs to include these secondary issues. Good planning includes anticipating likely events, identifying deficiencies and correcting them in advance, and determining steps to deal with disasters that might occur. Employees should receive scheduled training and practice in what actions to take at work and at home.
Situations can change quickly, of course, and likely will deviate in some way – large or small – from what was anticipated. So good planning also requires adaptability, quick reactions, and a bit of luck.