Red sky in mourning …

Jan. 21, 2022

Last fall marked the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on American soil, a somber milestone and stark remembrance that must never be forgotten – not only for the lives lost and sacrifices made, but also for the lessons learned.

One, in fact, can be applied to the global pandemic’s impact on the supply chain.

The anniversary attracted its share of televised documentaries, historical recaps and points of view from multiple angles and directions – and rightly so.

One, however, titled, “9/11: Four Flights,” resonated sharply. Commentary included keen insights from three persons whose acute perspectives could have been a rallying cry for crisis management in healthcare – particularly a global pandemic two decades later. The old adage, “red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailor’s warning,” signifies a brewing storm and could not be a more apt metaphor.

“The thinking on 9/11 was that a terrorist is not going to board an airplane with a bomb because they might get hurt,” Lynn Spencer, author, “Touching History,” and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident investigator. Call this Red Flag No. 1.

“The idea of a suicide bomber, of a suicide pilot, had never been contemplated as a serious threat,” followed Garrett Graff, author, “The Only Plane in the Sky.” Call this Red Flag No. 2.

John Farmer, Senior Counsel, 9/11 Commission, wielded the soul-crushing blow, throwing down a gauntlet representing Red Flag No. 3: “There was a systemwide failure of imagination. After all the dollars we spent, there was nothing anyone could do. They all boarded the plane. They’d gone through everything, all the layers of security. They’re now sitting in those seats, and at that point, it’s just going to play out.”

Farmer’s initial seven words should reflect a sharp dagger puncturing the collective consciousness, a reverberating clarion call, a red alert for any prognosticating efforts.

A systemwide failure of imagination.

Put another way, those crazy ideas purported by some mid-level manager in the Crisis Management Team or the Resiliency Planning meeting maybe aren’t so outlandish after all. Bottom line: If someone can conceive or think it, someone can do it.

This is not to condemn the far-reaching, wide-ranging efforts of crisis/disaster planning managers to date.

In fact, back in the 1990s, infection preventionists at the APIC conferences were sounding the alarm for vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), a superbug unaffected by our last line of antibiotic defense. Meanwhile, supply chain executives, leaders and managers routinely were prepping responses to a wide variety of weather-related crises and disasters, punctuated by the World Trade Center parking garage bombing in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Instead, however, this is more of an upbraid to us for not going far enough. To quote a pop culture refrain, this means to infinity and beyond. Truly open-minded thinking should not be a toy story.

For the first two decades of the 21st century, we’ve faced more than a dozen crises, disasters and medical maladies with COVID-19 representing a capstone, if not a harbinger. What’s next?

Two years of a respiratory-spread global pandemic represents sufficient time to think big, think twice. THINK or sink.

Our supply chain, our society, depends on it.