Maritime facilities have taken essential action and quickly applied their know-how in the face of COVID-19 impacts faster than other sectors, writes Charles Haine.
However, I doubt Emergency Response Plans (ERP), the crisis management discipline and business continuity planning will ever look the same again.
COVID-19 is a dummy run for what we might expect from climate risks, although while the pandemic hit was immediate, physical impacts from heat, rain, fog and water stress will affect us more regularly over one to two decades.
We’ve seen ports react quickly to construct temporary physical structures and modify terminals to cope with the need to increase storage capacity, safely store cargoes and dedicate space for emergency arrivals. In some cases, those were humans, in the form of infected holidaymakers on unscheduled Code Blue cruise ship visits.
That was when the ERP was triggered, catalysing emergency service, immigration and medical specialists into action. What value a robust ERP, and those invaluable yard workers, stevedores and supervisors who so often go unseen by the public.
REPURPOSING AND MODIFICATION
Ports and terminals are going to become experts at repurposing and modification as they react to spikes in trading, diversify and respond to new markets, including offshore renewable energy.
Those that have taken early action to be more resilient – for instance in response to the threats and hazards posed by extreme weather events such as intense storms – seem to be ahead of the game during lockdown.
The pandemic has proved that improving overall adaptive capacity is a necessary component of operations. Understanding redundancy in equipment and critical infrastructure in the port estate will be key in the face of unpredictable climate perils and accurate CAPEX/OPEX modelling, especially with the economy in a trough.
Port buildings should be designed for versatility, security and differing utility – who knows exactly what the function of a building with 80-year design life will be in 2045?
Just as important is the culture of “readiness” in terms of the ability of management to change corporate policies and modify frameworks and systems. Did any facility get it 100 per cent right in the face of this public health crisis? Digital-ready ports that have already connected different data systems are likely to be able to deal with sudden changes and uncertain timescales more rapidly.
The ability to make signage, utilise a 3-D printer and have sufficient supplies of all materials and substances in stock is crucial if an organisation is going to be safe, reorganise sites, or rapidly manufacture spare parts on site.
That’s the kind of readiness we help organisations adopt to become truly Future Ready. In COVID, the communications teams and human resources leaders in ports have found themselves at the forefront of messaging to the workforce, stakeholders, local communities and media.
The social media accounts of some went into overdrive to demonstrate that they were open for business when so many organisations ground to a halt. Ports have been on the front foot and showing that in times of need, essential cargoes and freight, including vital medicines and foodstuffs, were still are plentiful supply. The public benefitted from that assurance, as fights broke out over toilet rolls in supermarkets.
“BUILD BACK BETTER”
In recovery, we’ve heard about “build back better” and a focus on green infrastructure themes (British Ports Association). But ports do not seem to attract large chunks of UK Government funding.
That’s strange when the Clean Maritime Plan and the goals of Maritime 2050 were so well planned and received. It’s no good the UK being the first country in the world to announce a net zero emissions’ target (by 2050) and then sit back without helping the gateway and regional ports which are the key to unlocking supply chains and economic wellbeing.
Anchoring some of the millions into schemes that boost interconnectivity, oil the wheels of cargo transfer and support clean ports would seem to be an obvious win. Germany gets it: €9 billion for hydrogen projects – inherently linked to green production and export. Shoreside power doesn’t stand a chance until the Government supports better air quality with meaningful cash.
PoliticsHome has pointed out the UK Government’s recovery plan is flawed because of an ongoing ‘sea blindness’. Retailers who fund our supply chain will expect to send goods without impacting the oceans, the atmosphere and people.
As only around six per cent of people surveyed want to go back to the life we had in February 2020, now is the time for a change and to put some real money into the maritime sector.