How to Locate a Contingency Port

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Shippers and consignees on the u.s. west coast are well aware of the challenges they face when capacity is squeezed and time parameters are tight. As a result, many have begun managing their supply lines from point of origin, controlling the inbound shipment process to increase visibility farther back in the supply chain, then harnessing that information to manage shipment variability and exceptions as they occur.

But as much due diligence and supply chain tinkering as any one business can do may never prepare it for the types of exceptions and supply chain bottlenecks that occur when port workers, hurricanes, or terrorists strike. What do you do? Where do you go? How will you create, then execute, a workaround strategy to ensure shipments get to their intended destination without undue time and cost?

Commodity type, carrier preference, offshore networks, intermodal requirements, volume, and capacity inevitably dictate what ports shippers and consignees move product through. In this regard, high-traffic West and East Coast facilities are where businesses will migrate to for the foreseeable future. But that doesnπt mean stateside shippers and consignees canπt or shouldnπt be eyeing alternative ports and developing working relationships with terminals and carriers, so that when problems occur they have additional support and flexibility to create alternative plans for rerouting shipments or scaling volume.

The trend toward diversifying inbound volumes and ports of entry has raised the value of smaller, less-congested harbors that can help accommodate backlog cargo or serve as an alternative when supply chain disruptions happen. Identifying potential contingency ports demands businesses think upstream and downstream about how they can most efficiently and economically match supply to demand.

Businesses that have yet to seriously consider a contingency port strategy may be inclined to do so sooner rather than later—West Coast port operators and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union will be negotiating a new contract in 2008.

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