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Shippers reroute, adjust for Harvey

by Noel Oman | August 29, 2017 at 2:00 a.m.

Logistics professionals were busy Monday adapting to the devastating floods in Houston and other cities along the Texas Gulf Coast, rocked by heavy rains brought by Tropical Storm Harvey.

Images of flooded highways around the nation's fourth-largest city called attention to how mighty an impact severe weather can have on supply chains, the mechanisms through which consumers receive goods.

Fort Smith-based ArcBest Corp. temporarily closed its Houston shipping facility and said none of its drivers reported being stranded in flooded roadways.

"We expect that many customers will experience delays in receiving their shipments, particularly as several roads are impassable for the foreseeable future," spokesman Kathy Fieweger wrote in an email.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has its own fleet of trucks, began preparing for the tumultuous weather last week at its emergency services center in Bentonville, where professionals started monitoring weather forecasts and predicting how Harvey would affect deliveries and inventories.

"We are having to be nimble with our drivers," spokesman Ragan Dickens said, "to make sure we route those drivers to the right stores."

J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell did not have time Monday to comment about their Texas Gulf Coast business.

Over the weekend, a video circulated the Internet showing a truck driver stranded on a flooded Houston highway with water flowing over the truck's hood and up to the passenger window. The driver was rescued by county authorities on an airboat.

[STORM TRACKER: Follow Harvey’s projected path]

"Most of our equipment [was] positioned safely prior to the storm, and we have since been in contact with those drivers still in the area," Matt Herndon, chief operations officer at Tontitown-based P.A.M. Transport, wrote in an email. "As for customers, it will most certainly have an impact on our miles as we are experiencing customers [canceling] loads and [putting] off the delivery of inbound shipments."

As Houston is one of the largest commercial hubs in the United States, the flooding has caused many companies to cancel orders, leaving drivers in limbo and disturbing warehouse inventories around the nation.

The full extent of Harvey's disruption will not be known for some time, officials have said. Already, however, some logistics companies are evaluating if and when business will be possible in towns along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Jason Miller, a logistics professor at Michigan State University, said carriers generally move their trucks and employees out of harm's way before storms begin, but one of the most effective ways to hedge for these events is to have a diverse clientele spread across multiple regions.

"You're always balancing the preparations vs. the benefits of that," he said. "The storm track was a little bit off of what it was predicted, but there's not much you can do about that. You can't prepare for once in a hundred-year events."

Just as regularly scheduled deliveries have been delayed, demand for rescue-related goods will intensify as authorities discover the area's needs. As the floodwaters recede, demand for construction supplies is expected to lead to more business for freight companies. Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Monday that Texas is facing "one of the largest recovery housing missions the nation has ever seen."

Jim Craig, the chief commercial officer of Van Buren-based USA Truck, said in a prepared statement that the company anticipates "extraordinary on-going capacity demand for many months as the needs transition from relief supplies to materials needed to rebuild what has been lost."

Business on 08/29/2017

Print Headline: Shippers reroute, adjust for Harvey


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