Puerto Rico is hit again

The thing about the hurricane season is it’s always easy to speak too soo.

We noted a couple of weeks ago that Puerto Rico, a key production centre for pharma manufacturers, had escaped the worst of hurricane Irma.

Yet the clean up wasn’t even finished when the island was hit by the worst storm in 80 years, Maria, bringing “total devastation”. A number of factors have left the island particularly hard hit: Already fragile infrastructure leaving most without electricity – for weeks and many possibly for months; even cell phone coverage is limited; and widespread flooding has been exacerbated by the failure of the Guajataca Dam. The island also already filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, leaving it poorly prepared to tackle the costs of getting back on its feet.

Hurricane Maria might also have proved that it was a bit early to congratulate the industry and governments for avoiding drug shortages following Irma and Harvey. On Monday, the FDA warned that shortages could occur if the Puerto Rico pharma industry wasn't helped to get up and running quickly.

“The island is home to a substantial base of manufacturing for critical medical products that supply the entire world. This industrial base is an important source of jobs and economic vitality for the island. It is a key to Puerto Rico’s economic recovery. The manufacturing facilities are also a pivotal source of critical medical products for the entire United States,” its statement read.

The problem, as ever, is both the scale of the storm – a “catastrophic event unlike many the United States has faced”, as the FDA put it – but also the scale of pharma manufacturing in Puerto Rico. That’s shown in a map taken from the tool in our SCAIRTM software of FDA Registered Drug Establishments affected:

With such a concentration in an area so prone to tragedy, the challenge for the industry to maintain supplies will alway be substantial.

Major business interruption events challenge the robustness of global supply chains

2010 – a year of surprises? Or was it all pretty predictable?

2010 started uncomfortably for certain organisations with freezing Eurostar trains stuck in the Channel Tunnel and the threat of Pandemic flu still just lurking just over the horizon. April brought disruption for many more companies with the volcanic ash cloud casting an impenetrable shadow over the movement of goods and people in Europe. Car production lines came to a standstill when critical components were failing to arrive ‘just-in-time’.

Such headline grabbing events are always followed with the inevitable probing questions:
• Should these organisations have been better prepared for such eventualities?
• Where were their contingency plans?

The defence is invariably that “these acts of God were unforeseeable”. Is that acceptable in the current age of “if it can go wrong, it will”? After all, we live in a world that does not tolerate disruption – there’s no room for slippage in our modern, just- in-time existences.

This provided a topic for discussion on Radio 4’s ‘The Bottom Line’ a couple of weeks ago. Their general conclusion seemed to be plan for the ‘FORSEEABLE’ (aka freezing trains), but don’t waste your time planning for the UNFORSEEABLE (aka Ash clouds). If you don’t respond well to the Forseeable then you look silly - the Unforseeable you can get away with.

Well, there is a parallel argument that goes something along the lines of 'plan for the effect rather than the cause'. There is no point in trying to plan for every single unforseeable scenario (cause), but there is a great deal of value in planning for the impact of the unknown threat ( the effect). Analysing the impact focuses risk mitigating actions on the most exposed areas.