It was the wake-up call no one wanted, but opened the food industry’s eyes to gaps in crisis preparedness.
Today, one year later, the industry is better positioned, but still learning and trying to spread the lessons more widely.
That’s the impression I got from Linda Doherty, president of the New Jersey Food Council, who is a leader in emergency management not only in her own state, but also on the national level.
As a New Jersey resident, I’m especially interested in lessons learned from Sandy, which devastated much of the Eastern U.S.
“A lot has changed since Sandy,” Doherty said. “That storm drove retailers to take another honest look at their business contingency plans.”
What should organizations be doing now?
Some of the best advice is to build good relationships with community partners in advance, including utility companies, and to make sure contact information is up to date for key officials in government and business, according to an SN report earlier this year.
Reviewing crisis plans is important, but it’s not enough. Plans need to be tested with local government partners, “because you can’t test in a vacuum,” Doherty emphasized.
Moreover, Doherty said, retailers need to check contracts, not just for energy or generators, but also for fuel.
Many retailers are looking into dry ice contracts, which would be useful for certain types of crises.
It’s also critical to oppose “reactionary legislation” that often follows disasters, Doherty asserted.
The NJFC has been battling a number of “generator bills” that emerged at the state and local levels. These well-intentioned measures sought to mandate the use of full-size, on-site generators, but they were unrealistic in promoting costly solutions that weren’t flexible enough.
Doherty, by the way, wears additional hats in crisis management. She is captain of the Emergency Management Share Group of the Food Industry Association Executives, and is involved in the federal All Hazards Consortium.
A comprehensive focus on readiness makes complete sense.
Companies throughout the industry need to honestly ask whether they’ve done everything to prepare for potential disasters. And there’s only one good answer to that question.
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