For those of us old enough to remember, it's hard to believe. But it was 36 years ago this month that the world watched tensely as the crippled Apollo 13 with three astronauts on board hurtled toward earth.
I was reminded of that last month when Jim Lovell, who commanded the mission, delivered the keynote address at a Psion Teklogix customer conference in Orlando, Fla. Lovell recounted some of the more hair-raising moments of that journey and described the emergency response by the men in space and the team on the ground—what, in deference to his business audience, Lovell called "a classic case of crisis management."
The crisis erupted when an oxygen tank exploded, damaging the spacecraft. From that moment until the appropriately named Odyssey splashed down in the Pacific, it was never clear that Lovell and his fellow fliers, Jack Swigert and Jim Haise, would survive.
They did, of course. And for that, Lovell credits teamwork. He credits the initiative and imagination of the people who resolved the unanticipated crisis. And he credits perseverance and motivation—what we might call passion. He didn't use the word courage, but that would aptly describe what it took to face danger with self-possession and confidence.
I mention this here because I think it's an appropriate introduction to this month's cover story on how supply chain managers can prepare for an avian flu pandemic. Should a pandemic occur—and it may well not—the first concern, of course, would be public health. But managers cannot ignore the potential effects on commerce. To demonstrate just how disruptive a pandemic could prove, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Transportation and Logistics will conduct a simulation this month that will test executives' response to a crisis. It's expected to provide valuable lessons on how to react to a flu outbreak or any other major disruption.
It's impossible to prepare for every possible contingency. In the end, the best we can do is what Lovell urged his audience in Orlando to do: "Expect the unexpected." But we do know what it will take. When a real crisis erupts, it will require the courage to face danger calmly and confidently. It will require the coordinated efforts of well-trained and well-prepared people. It will require the flexibility and imagination to respond to whatever comes at them. In short, it will require the same kind of clear-headed response that brought Lovell, Swigert, and Haise home safely.