When disaster strikes, the safety of your en-route patient samples depends upon the contingency planning that was done in anticipation of the emergency. While many emergencies happen in an instant, immediately impacting our logistics infrastructure – earthquakes, tornados or volcanic eruptions, for example – some, such as the recent series of severe hurricanes and typhoons, have longer lead times.”
When events of this nature occur, our global logistics team is behind the scenes preparing for such events. With more than 25 full-time staff, this team monitors shipments, coordinates with couriers, and oversees all of the operations that are critical to ensuring that patient samples are received at our labs within stability. Even factoring in emergencies, transportation failures impact only about 0.1% of all specimens.
With storm events – like typhoons or hurricanes – still days away, our logistics team begins working with our project managers to identify potentially-impacted sites in the region, based on postal codes or regions within affected countries. Due to the lack of precision in predicting the track of a big storm, we identify all areas that may be reasonably considered at risk and begin the contingency process, narrowing it down as forecasts tighten. We proactively reach out to investigator sites to discuss scheduling visits around the most problematic days of an event, thereby exposing fewer shipments to risk.
During this time, the logistics team is also in constant contact with couriers, developing plans for routing samples around the impacted zones. Hurricanes represent a special threat, because they often track near Miami, which is our primary inbound port of entry for samples coming to our Indianapolis laboratory from Latin America. If Miami airport operations are shut down or compromised, it may seem simple to route specimens to an alternate airport. However, this takes advanced planning as special arrangements may be needed for customs at the alternate airport to ensure the specimens are not delayed. In addition, couriers may need to move staff from Miami to the contingency site to be able to handle the increased volume. Success only comes from prior planning so that all of the necessary steps are completed in advance.
It’s not just inbound patient specimens that may be affected. We routinely ship specimens to specialty testing labs from our central lab or other facilities. When the destination lab is in an affected area, the shipped specimens may need be intercepted and directed to a safe place for the duration of the event.
As a storm bears down, final preparations are made based on its point of impact and more precise timing. Chains of contact between our logistics team and the couriers are finalized and assessments are made about when to switch to the now fully fleshed out contingency plan. It is critical that we switch over in advance of an airport shut down so that specimens are not trapped at the dormant airport. At that point, it would be too late.