Guest Column: Any Epidemic or Crisis Can Sicken Your Supply Chain

May 6, 2009 — Your supply chain has taken a lot of hits in the past few months, with the prolonged recession, the Somali pirates of the high seas, and now the emerging swine flu epidemic. While the supply chain is the economic lifeline of any business, the frightening thought is that most companies don't have a clue about its health or its vulnerabilities. The swine flu or any other outbreak could be the watershed moment that your business either weathers successfully or stumbles over and suffers irreparable damage.

This isn't the first time that an infectious disease has affected the supply chain. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) struck Asia in 2003, resulting in a huge disruption in manufacturing and high-tech production, with business-changing ramifications leading back here to the U.S. poultry markets. The swine flu is no different than other problems of the past. But, combined with economic and political uncertainty and the always looming natural disaster, the new flu creates a unique "perfect storm" for supply chain disruptions. The global nature of today's economy also makes the spread of diseases easier due to the mobility of the population and the distribution of global commerce. According to estimates, the economic impact of a pandemic on the United States alone would exceed $100 billion, affecting businesses and the workforce, at a time when companies can ill afford further hits to revenues.