Ports, railway operators, and material handling companies throughout the Carolinas and Virginia on Monday were watching weather reports and making preparations for the possible impact of Hurricane Florence, which recently strengthened to a powerful, Category 4 storm as it moved through the Atlantic Ocean toward a potential landfall on the U.S. east coast by Thursday.
As of mid-day on Monday, the South Carolina Ports Authority said it was still following normal operating hours at its facilities, but was closely monitoring the storm and would post any changes to operating conditions at the ports of Charleston, Georgetown, Greer, or Dillon. According to recent forecasts, Florence will move between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday, and could make landfall on the mainland U.S. by Thursday or Friday.
A category 4 hurricane is the second-most powerful ranking, with winds of 130 to 156 mph, powerful enough to destroy roof structures on well-built homes, snap or uproot trees, and topple power poles, isolating residential areas through power outages lasting weeks or months, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center's National Centers for Environmental Prediction.
Facing that ferocious impact, east coast railroad operator CSX Corp. said it was monitoring storm conditions and coordinating its plans with state and local officials. "CSX will remain in close contact with employees and customers as the storm approaches and we will be prepared to respond with equipment, manpower, and resources, if needed, once the storm has safely cleared the affected areas," a CSX spokesman said via email.
Headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla., CSX operates 21,000 miles of track in 23 states, including rail lines on the east coast between Florida and Montreal, and as far west as St. Louis, Mo. That puts valuable company property in the potential track of the storm, including rail terminals, intermodal facilities, track infrastructure, and mobile assets, a spokesman said.
However, a business in the southeast U.S., CSX says it has experience in emergency management and has seen a number of storms in recent years, including Tropical Storm Gordon during the first week of September this year, Hurricane Irma in September of 2017, and Hurricane Matthew in October of 2016. "We're keeping a close eye on the storm, and could even move rolling stock out of the way, if need be," a spokesman said. "This is something we do have experience with, monitoring the safety of our employees, our property, and our customers' property."
While Category 4 storms are not common, an average of 12 storms—including six hurricanes—form every year over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or Gulf of Mexico during the annual hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, the National Weather Service says.
A storm driving such high winds speeds could cause disruption in a number of ways, such as flying debris and downed trees, power outages, and the disruption to employees' personal lives that can lead to a loss in productivity, according to Max Vome, the manager of Health, Safety, Environment & Security (HSE&S) for Summerville, S.C.-based Kion North America Corp., a material handling services and industrial truck manufacturer.
With facilities in South Carolina, Kion is preparing to notify customers in advance of potential delays that could be triggered by shutdowns of operations and other logistics concerns, he said in an email.
To mitigate those impacts, the company is turning to its KION North America Adverse Weather Plan, created in advance with help from local emergency management personnel. "Have a plan," Vome said in an email. "Make it easy for employees to understand, have a mass communication system, have a recovery plan."
Details of Hurricane Florence's track are still developing, but some companies are already making plans to recover as quickly as possible from potential infrastructure damage that could bottle up the flow of goods along the east coast.
One freight transportation provider in the region said that once it had a firm prediction of the storm's path, it could position repair equipment and work crews in close proximity to that area. It plans to keep those assets out of the storm's direct path, but near enough to quickly respond to any service disruptions due to infrastructure damage, and resume supply chain operations as soon as possible, the company said.
Another organization that could step in to storm-wrecked areas to accelerate the region's recovery from a possible hit by Hurricane Florence is the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), an organization that connects the logistics community with disaster relief agencies badly in need of supply chain support such as transportation, warehousing, and material handling equipment.