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Recalling the 10 Most Disruptive Events of the Year (But Not This Year)

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In the aftermath of what might have been the year’s biggest major supply chain disruption, many impacted organizations relied on supply chain visibility and strong contingency planning to minimize their losses and divert shipments.

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020? Nope, that scenario describes two explosions at a dangerous goods warehouse in Tianjin, China, in August 2015. The tragedy killed or injured hundreds of people, devastated northern China’s largest port and sent organizations scrambling to enact contingency plans, particularly companies in the automotive sector.

The horrific event was bad enough to make DHL’s list of the “Top 10 Supply Chain Disruptions of 2015.” We came across the list recently, and thought it was worth sharing. Not to make light of these events of half-a-decade ago — some of them involved terrible losses of human lives and all were extremely costly. But it’s worth looking back on these events from today’s perspective, when a worldwide pandemic has killed more than a half-million people and shut down large segments of the global economy.

A few questions come to mind when you review the list, such as: Did we learn anything from these earlier disruptions that might have lessened the impact of the coronavirus? Will this year’s unprecedented disruption result in real change that earlier, smaller events did not, and bring real resilience to global supply chains?

“With increasing globalization and outsourcing, and with leaner yet more complex supply chains, the level of risk is steadily rising,” DHL noted in January 2016. “By booking alternative transportation, sourcing materials from alternative suppliers and coordinating cross-network responses to disruptive events, companies can stay ahead and turn a disruption into a competitive advantage.”

We are all still crawling from the wreckage of the 2020 pandemic — with more impacts expected to come — but it’s enlightening to recall the events that sent shivers through supply chains only a few years ago. In addition to the Tianjin explosion, DHL said the following were the biggest disruptors of 2015. Did any of them impact your organization?

  • Flooding of south India’s largest commercial and industrial center;
  • Labor unrest at India’s largest container port;
  • A minor trade war after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet;
  • A strike at east Africa’s biggest harbor;
  • Brazilian truck drivers blockaded highways;
  • Work stoppages by Chilean customs officials;
  • Panama Canal congestion caused by adverse weather;
  • Hurricane Patricia in Mexico; and
  • Extreme weather across the United States in February.

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