The topic this month is intended for laundries based here in the States, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to share how this issue is of continuous concern for producers of the products these laundries process.
Power outages are a constant problem for textile vendors in India and Pakistan. This is due mostly to internal infrastructure problems that have no short-term fix. Both the Indian and Pakistan governments impose rolling blackouts to cope with increasing demands for energy. It is a balancing act between residential and industrial consumption needs, and the problem is magnified in the winter.
Earlier this year in Faisalabad, Pakistan, I toured a factory where patient gown fabric is printed in the dark because there was no power available to turn on the lights. Most of the larger factories have installed auxiliary power generation, either diesel-powered generators or coal-fired boilers.
Now back to the States. As our company is a supplier of reusable textiles, I inquired how we would handle a situation like this. We have a plan, the Emergency Response Process, available to our customers that can be enacted in an emergency. The plan allows us to provide additional product in an expedited manner to assist the customer/laundry in meeting their service requirements.
I interviewed several large laundry customers on how they prepare for short- and long-term power disruptions. The responses ranged from “we have no contingency plan” to a fully documented detailed plan for addressing these situations.
The typical detailed plan included an introduction that described why the plan was created, and it contained a list of laundry contacts that could provide backup processing options. A list of customer contacts was included to help facilitate communications in advising of the situation and to employ linen conservation if needed. The contingency plan clearly outlines emergency action plans and preparations for inclement weather. Some plans lay out step-by-step what is to happen before, during and after a storm.
It is a good idea to base your plan on the cause of the interruption. If it is equipment or internally related, you probably have more options on maintaining your service level. If the interruption is weather-related, it could mean that your options locally would be more limited, and you might have to tap into resources outside the affected area. This could lead to trucking soiled linen to a distant backup processor and require expedited logistics.
Depending on your situation, having additional linen on hand or quick access to your supplier, as well as access to a power generator, will help you weather a storm.
Three options are available to the average laundry. First is a backup generator capable of generating enough power to keep operations going until power restored. Many of our hospital and governmental operations have such systems in place to support operations during times of disaster. If the power goes down, the backup system kicks in until power is restored.
The strengths of this option include an immediate solution to power loss; it is always available; and it is totally under your control. The weaknesses are that the system is expensive to set up; the fuel and tank system needs to be maintained; it has a finite life span (depending on the fuel needed to run the system); it needs to be evaluated and periodically tested to keep it operational; and the system can be damaged in the same disaster that shuts down operations.
Another option is having support or disaster agreements in place with other laundry operations that are in your region but far enough away that it’s unlikely both facilities will be knocked out at the same time. Many operations knocked out by Hurricane Hugo in Charleston, S.C., and by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were forced to ship product for processing as far north as Richmond and Atlanta, respectively.
The agreements are generally reciprocal since no one knows which plant might suffer a natural or “man-made” disaster that would shut down business for any length of time. The strengths of such agreements are that they are relatively easy to develop and negotiate, and they have a low cost. Weaknesses include a potential that the backup facility will suffer the same fate; there are logistics and delivery issues; they can be expensive when the trigger is pulled, but cost is rarely the issue; the agreement can be dissolved or lost at an inopportune time; and the program may no longer be under your control when needed.
The third option is that, for a short term, your plant may have a sufficient par level of linen on hand to cover your customer base while power is off. This would, however, be only enough to last for a short term—hours or a few days at most. The strengths of this option are the ease in which it can be set up and that it keeps your service operating and employees working. Weaknesses include the expense; the inventory and space needs; and that there is a short-term, finite life span on this action—when the linen is gone, the plant is down.
For a longer-term solution, blend all three contingencies for the best strategy. Again, strengths and weaknesses must be evaluated, and I’ve only touched on a few of them here. There will be unique issues with each strategy depending on size of your plant, geography and distribution of your customer base, and the “depth” and intensity of the disaster your plant is facing.
Check back on Tuesday for Part 3!