Friends don’t let Friends’ Milk Spoil: Power Blackouts and Logistics in Kenya

Thursday morning saw Kenyans wake up to an unlikely December chill and a rude surprise: an almost nationwide electrical blackout. A statement released by the “leading” power supplier explained that an issue with a major electrical line had interrupted supply to many parts of the country, with a solution being sought by technicians.

No stranger to involuntary candle-lit dinners, some of us were resigned to our fate, while others took to social media to express their anger, as cold showers were had by all especially Nairobians. The implications of power blackouts for private citizens vary from slightly wrinkled clothes to toes stubbed while fumbling in the darkness; inconvenient, but ultimately minor. For the logistics industry, however, the same cannot be said.

Supply chain companies dealing in warehousing of temperature-sensitive cargo are usually the hardest hit by power blackouts, with equipment used to keep cargo at their optimum temperature usually requiring power to keep them operational. Perishables such as meat or dairy products, medical paraphernalia like vaccines or donated blood will all feel the effect of even a brief period of too high temperatures, costing the logistics company and their client’s massive losses.

Security of goods housed in warehouses also becomes a concern in case of an electricity outage. While most security systems come with a backup battery to keep the system armed even during a black out, these batteries can only hold so much power. Should a blackout last for longer than the battery capacity, warehouses with such systems will be a great risk.

For the less high-tech companies that rely on manual security systems and human guards, the simple fact that a blackout will likely result in darkness makes it hard for watchmen to administer their jurisdiction, with likelihood of would-be burglars successfully sneaking in increasing. Additional security measures such as surveillance cameras would also be disabled in the event of a blackout, leaving warehoused goods vulnerable to pilfering and grand theft.

Power fluctuations and frequent outages are also likely to cause mechanical damage to equipment in supply chain warehouses. Machinery such as conveyor belts, cooling systems or even security systems can be affected by unstable power supply.Not only would this cripple or slow down operations, repairs are likely to be costly, involving expensive spare parts or requiring that machines be replaced all together.

Photocredit: semtecmaritime.com

Photocredit: semtecmaritime.com

With these and other risks involved, it is necessary that supply chain managers take steps to ensure their warehouses remain safe and operational. Where warehouses remain physically intact, it is likely that the localized warehouse management system (WMS) where applicable will be down, leaving no way to access inventory management. Supply chain managers can overcome this using cloud storage to back up their systems prior to restoration of power, as WMS hosted on-site would be the most vulnerable.

Logistics firms can also invest in emergency power supplies (EPS) designed to automatically kick in during a blackout without human input, supplying essential circuits with electricity or servicing the entire building. These can include propane, natural gas or diesel powered generators to ensure an uninterrupted supply of power even in the event of a blackout. Alternatively, supply chain managers can contract external emergency management firms to be deployed in case of major blackouts. Such companies specialize in fuel management and maintaining power and communications during blackouts, natural disasters and the like.

As we collectively recover from the unexpected trip to the Dark Ages, we encourage you to find your inner supply chain manager and put in place emergency supplies of flashlights, matches and neighbors to help you consume your dairy products before they spoil: in Kenya, you never know when the next blackout may come.

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